February 21, 2001 -- "Down to Earth" is a lifeless remake of "Heaven Can Wait" (1978) which itself is a remake of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (1941). Another movie called "Down to Earth" (1947) used characters from "Heaven Can Wait." With each retelling, it seems, the tale gets worse. The original film, "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," won some academy awards. The latest attempt won't win anything.
Chris Rock of "Nurse Betty" stars as aspiring comic Lance Barton, taken to heaven before his time by a miscalculating angel, Keyes, (played by Eugene Levy of "Best in Show"). It is up to the head angel Mr. King (Chazz Palminteri of "Analyze This") to set things right. He tells Barton he can't get his old body back, but he can use another body temporarily until a satisfactory replacement body can be found. It has to be a person who has recently died and the body hasn't been discovered yet.
Barton takes over the body of a nasty middle aged billionaire named Wellington who has been murdered by his wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and her boyfriend, Skylar (Greg Germann). Wellington takes on a new persona, that of the black man inside his white skin. This is supposed to be the key to the movie, an old white guy who is really black. It just doesn't work all that well. Some of the jokes, based on the idea that it is O.K. for a black person to use the term "nigger," but it isn't O.K. for a white person to use the same word, really fall flat. The idea of a young black man trapped in an old white man's body is not funny enough to carry the film, unless you re-wrote the story to make it a lot more edgy and satirical. Instead of being edgy, the story is basically sweet, sentimental and romantic. That part of the film doesn't really work, either.
I didn't really buy the romance between the idealistic Sontee (Regina King of "Enemy of the State") and the old white, married billionaire, Wellington. This part of the story was more believable in "Heaven Can Wait," because the romantic couple was a lot closer to the same age. The relationship between Barton and his longtime manager is given short shrift in the film, while the same relationship was a crucial element in "Heaven Can Wait." It may have been the projector was set up wrong at the theater where I saw the film, but I must have seen the microphone at the end of the sound boom about 20 times during the movie. Even one sighting of the overhead microphone is usually a sure sign of a poorly-made movie. It was distracting, to say the least. The idea of a crime-boss kind of angel didn't work all that well. At one point Mr. King (Palminteri) says, "What, are you getting tough with me? I'm a freaking angel!" What were the screenwriters freaking thinking?
Chris Rock is a very funny comedian, and I liked his work in "Rush Hour." I think he is a capable actor. The best parts of the film were when he was on stage. I don't agree with other critics who lay the blame for the failures of this movie on his shoulders. Most of the principal actors in this film have been in much better films before, and they will be again. The screenplay and direction collapsed in this film. The screenplay, based on a story that worked fine before in two other films, was brain dead. There is plenty of blame to go around for the failures in this film. Making a film is a collaborative effort. This film rates a D+.
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