'Head of State' theme has been overdone

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2003

''Head of State'' stars Steve Martin and Queen Latifah as an uptight white guy and a funky black woman who form an unlikely friendship after meeting on the Internet.

Oh, wait! That's ''Bringing Down the House.''

''Head of State'' stars Steve Zahn and Martin Lawrence as an uptight white guy and a funky black guy who reluctantly team up as security guards.

Oops! That was ''National Security.''

Because ''Head of State'' is just the latest in a recent series of white-people-are-so-lame movies, a theme that isn't getting any funnier, no matter how many times it's dragged out.

Chris Rock, in his directorial debut, stars as Mays Gilliam, a Washington, D.C. alderman who's chosen to run for president in 2004 after the party's candidate and running mate die in a plane crash. (Dylan Baker, who plays his campaign manager, Martin Geller, functions as the uptight white guy to Rock's funky black guy.)

In no time, Mays has taught all his stuffy handlers how to get their freak on, with the white folks doing the electric slide to Nelly's omnipresent party anthem, ''Hot in Herre.'' Fo' shizzle!

Mays is running against a very white, very Southern sitting vice president (Nick Searcy), and gains popularity in the polls with his straight talk. The campaign -- and the movie -- really pick up steam when he picks his bail bondsman brother, Mitch (Bernie Mac), as his running mate.

But he isn't really expected to win; Sen. Bill Arnot (James Rebhorn) has set him up to lose so that he can run in 2008, and persuaded Geller and adviser Debra Lassiter (Lynn Whitfield) to go along with the plan. While no political parties are mentioned, Mays is clearly a Democrat and the vice president is clearly a Republican, but the film doesn't have the guts to alienate any moviegoers.

Meanwhile, in a flimsy romantic subplot, Mays tries to woo a cute, idealistic convenience store employee (Tamala Jones) while avoiding his ex-fiance (a shrill Robin Givens) who dumped him when she thought he was just a loser alderman.

Typical of sketch-driven comedy, the jokes are hit and miss. Some sight gags work, like Mays' surreal dream sequences, and the way he restyles his campaign -- now dubbed ''MG2K4'' -- with ads that look like P. Diddy videos, complete with bling-bling and booty shaking.

Screenwriters Rock and Ali LeRoi (a longtime collaborator on Rock's HBO series) hammer other jokes into the ground.

But if Rock and LeRoi are trying to make a serious statement about political corruption or racial misunderstandings, they're not saying anything fresh or insightful because so many characters are broad stereotypes.

The vice president's misguided motto, ''God bless America ... and no place else,'' is good for a laugh the first time, but not the third or fourth. And a running joke about how he's qualified to be commander in chief because he's Sharon Stone's cousin isn't even initially amusing.

The humor often feels so archaic, it lacks satirical bite.

At a party with Capitol Hill blue hairs, Mays shouts while spinning records, ''The roof! The roof! The roof is on fire!'' And everyone panics and clears out. Could these people truly be so clueless?

''Head of State'' works best when Mays strays from the canned propaganda and speaks off-the-cuff at campaign stops, simply because it nearly recreates the sensation of watching Rock perform standup comedy.

''How many of you work two jobs just so you can afford to be broke?'' he asks the crows.

Between this and Rock's other recent disappointments, including ''Down to Earth'' and ''Bad Company,'' it's enough to make you want to revisit his comedy special, ''Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker'' -- or at least catch an episode of ''The Bernie Mac Show,'' which actually has something to say.

''Head of State,'' a DreamWorks Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for language, sexuality and some drug references. Running time: 95 minutes. Two stars out of four.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.

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