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Down To Earth Review

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When Lance Barton is run over and killed, he negotiates a deal with heaven, whereby he can return to earth, provided he does so in another body. Reincarnated as an aged millionaire, he finds himself falling hopelessly in love with Sontee, and sets out to win her heart, regardless of his appearance.

★★★★★

A curious little number. Curious, firstly, for managing to adapt its endearing source material (Elaine May and Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait) into an incoherent jumble. Curious, also, in that at some (presumably very early) point in the script stages, this seemed an appealing follow-up to American Pie for directors Chris and Paul Weitz. And curious, too, in that it manages, in the main, to reduce Chris Rock, unofficially The Funniest Man In America, to sparse one-liners. Although, considering his co-writing credit, he can hardly complain.

As the film’s reincarnated chancer, Rock sporadically builds on his fine recent turns - anyone familiar with Nurse Betty, Dogma and his stand-up work will be well-versed in his aptitude with comic timing - but, sadly, this is not the vehicle for him to best exploit his talent.

Partly this is due to a family-friendly rating that prohibits his usual flair for the profane. A slim running time doesn’t help matters, with support from Chazz Palminteri and Levy not only wasted, but edited to the point of bewilderment (although there is an argument that the less seen of Mark Addy, the better), while King again reprises the part of independent feminist with a slushy interior (see Jerry Maguire for one) she seems condemned to play.

The most elemental flaw here, though, is one of structure. Perhaps in ensuring their money’s worth of their star, the producers choose to only ever show Chris Rock as Chris Rock, regardless of which body he is supposedly inhabiting. Thus, while every other character sees him as Mr. Wellington, a sixtysomething, white millionaire, the audience (aside from a couple of fleeting glimpses in the mirror) is merely presented with Chris Rock trying to get it on with King. And, as much as she witters, “I don’t know… There’s just something in your eyes,” she never convinces. Would it have been funnier if Mr. Wellington looked like Mr. Wellington? Infinitely. Would it have been more commercially viable? Highly unlikely.

Disappointingly poor. Rock does just enough to justify his future leading man status, but it will take better projects than this to get him there.

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