Down to Earth
Directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz
Review by Matt Heffernan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Now for Part Two of the Greg Germann Remake Weekend, which began with my previous review for Sweet November, a remake of a rather obscure 1968 film. However, Down to Earth is the third adaptation of the Harry Segall play Heaven Can Wait. The first was one of my all-time favorite films: 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan with Robert Montgomery and Claude Rains. The second, and most familiar to today's audiences, is 1978's Heaven Can Wait starring Warren Beatty. In fact, Down to Earth is directly based on the 1978 screenplay by Beatty and Elaine May, and does not credit the original play at all. Anyway, this is an attempt to strike gold for a third time while simultaneously typecasting Greg Germann from "Ally McBeal". To say the least, this was not a great idea.
Chris Rock stars as Lance Barton, a struggling comedian who regularly gets booed off the Apollo Theater stage on Amatuer's Night. He has acquired the nickname "Booey", which is even used by his kind-hearted manager, Whitney (Frankie Faison). The Apollo is going to close down, and plans on showcasing five amateur acts in their closing show. After trying to get one of these spots with Whitney, Lance goes back to his job as a bicycle courier, full of great expectations. However, while his head is turned by a beautiful woman, he gets hit by a truck.
Once in Heaven (which looks like it was designed by Hugh Hefner), Lance finds out that the angel Mr. Keyes (Eugene Levy) took his spirit an instant before the truck actually hit. The head angel, Mr. King (Chazz Palminteri), takes him to the newly-dead body of billionaire Charles Wellington. Lance agrees to use this body temporarily after seeing that he'd have a chance to meet the last woman he saw in life, Sontee (Regina King). He also wants to get back into the Apollo show, but being a middle-aged white guy is not going to make either of these goals feasible.
So where does Greg Germann fit into all of this? I figured you might ask. He plays Wellington's personal assistant, who conspired to kill him with Mrs. Wellington (Jennifer Coolidge). This requires him to play the exact same character as his roles in both "Ally McBeal" and Sweet November. But dwelling on his typecasting, isn't the real purpose of this review. There are far more pressing issues at hand.
Basically, this version of the story doesn't work. The only new source of comedy is the race-bending aspect, which does not prove fruitful. The brilliance of Here Comes Mr. Jordan was Robert Montgomery's dim-witted boxer, who now had to act like a sophisticated tycoon. Lance Barton is not a funny character. Comedians in general are not funny as characters. Take Jerry Seinfeld, who essentially played himself in "Seinfeld". He was the straight man while the more interesting characters of George, Elaine, and Kramer provided the comedy, even though "Jerry" was a comedian. Lance Barton was no mental giant, but the jokes were not at his expense. The film occasionally cuts to what he looks like to the rest of the world in order to show how funny it is to have Wellington rapping along with the radio.
The rest of the film consists of all the plot points you remember from the earlier films. The only difference is that this version handles them with less skill. This film does have its moments, and the story itself is strong enough to keep it going, but it is certainly not worthwhile. It's too bad because I really like Chris Rock, and I had hoped that his version would live up to the past. It has done surprisingly well against Hannibal at the box office, and judging by the extremely young audience in my theatre, most of these ticket-buyers haven't seen either of the two superior versions. The best anybody can hope for is that this helps Rock establish himself as a box office draw and inspires kids to rent Here Comes Mr. Jordan or Heaven Can Wait. At least that's what I want, but it seems that Hollywood doesn't care about what I want anymore. They're more concerned about making movies with David Arquette and a dog. I'd better stop now before I let this rant get out of control.
If you want to learn more about Elaine May and her legendary partnership with Mike Nichols, check out A Website with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, run by FilmHead.com's own Lauren Snyder.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Down to Earth (2001)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan