Directed by: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Written by:Chris Rock, Lance Crouther, Ali LeRoi, Louis C.K.
Starring: Chris Rock, Regina King, Chazz Palminteri, Eugene Levy, Mark Addy, Jennifer Coolidge, Frankie Faison
Released: August 2, 2001
Grade: B-

Despite his passion for the craft, Lance Barton (Rock) just doesn’t have what it takes to be a stand up comedian.  His agent Whitney Daniels (Faison) keeps getting him gigs at the famous Apollo Theatre but every time he’s on stage, his nerves overwhelm him.  He’s known by most as “Booey” for the loud boos he receives and yet he keeps returning with a fresh look and new material.

As fate has it, Lance is killed after being struck by a city bus and he awakes in heaven.  There he meets one of God’s angels, Mr. King (Palminteri), and his assistant, Mr. Keyes (Levy).  It seems a mix-up has occurred and that Lance isn’t due for another 40 years.  Vowing to set things right and because he thinks he’s a nice guy, Mr. King offers Lance a chance to return to Earth but since his body has already been taken, he’ll have to find a new one for him.

A body fitting his description isn’t currently available so he’s offered a “loaner” - that of wealthy billionaire Charles Wellington who’s just been knocked off by his wife and business secretary.  Lance isn’t thrilled to be “white” but with the thought of money and a beautiful lady named Sontee (King) who’s pressuring Wellington, he takes the body.

For fear of ruining all the surprises (if that’s what you call them), I won’t continue with more plot details.  The film is a remake of 1978’s Heaven Can Wait starring writer-director Warren Beatty with Julie Christie and Jack Warden.  Down To Earth is a glossed up version with a few different twists but it offers the same lesson in life - looks do make a difference.

Chris Rock began his career as a stand-up comedian (and still is one despite a hectic film schedule).  I’m sure he appreciated the role as he himself would have had a few rough audiences over the years.  Few other characters make an impact but I did enjoy the casting choice of Palminteri and Levy as heaven’s guardians.  It’s nice to see Levy branching out from the indy-scene with roles in this, American Pie and Josie And The Pussycats.  As for Palminteri, nothing surprises me anymore for this Oscar nominee who’s starred in everything from The Usual Suspects to A Night At The Roxbury.

There are some funny jokes and a few light-hearted situations but not quite enough to carry the whole film.  The plot itself is a little silly to make seem realistic.  For example, when Lance looks in a mirror he sees himself but everyone else sees him as Wellington.  Clearly this is designed to keep Rock in the film but I question why we hardly ever see the real Wellington and why the other characters don’t seem too deterred by Wellington’s sudden change in personality.  If you want to see Rock as he should be, check out his live comedy routine or even better, see Nurse Betty which opens in three weeks.