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Head of State Review

By Shawn McKenzie 03/28/2003

There is something my fellow Denver critic Reggie McDaniel says about Chris Rock that is so correct about the actor.  He thinks Rock is a better comedian than he is an actor.  After seeing Head of State, I couldn’t agree more.  This movie displays all of Rock’s strengths, but it also displays many of his weaknesses, which apparently includes directing.


Mays Gilliam (Rock) is an alderman in the crime-ridden rundown 9th Ward of Washington, D.C.  He is popular among his constituents because he speaks his mind and gets things done.  That isn’t good enough for his high maintenance fiancée, Kim (Robin Givens), who dumps him after he is evicted from his office building.  While driving in his car one day, Mays hears the radio station interrupt the latest Jay-Z hit to report that the current Presidential candidate has died in a plane crash (after which the station immediately returns to the Jay-Z hit, already in progress.)  The Democratic Party leader, Senator Bill Arnot (James Rebhorn), wants to ensure that he will get the minority vote for the election in 2008, when he'll be the candidate, so he chooses a minority who has no chance of winning to run in 2004.  His reasoning for this is that, in 2008, the minorities will outnumber the majority, so by attracting them now, and claiming he was the man who put a minority on the ticket, he will win in 2008.  He chooses Mays after seeing a news report about him saving a little old lady and her cat.  He assigns campaign workers Martin Geller (Dylan Baker) and Debra Lassiter (Lynn Whitfield) to tell Mays the news and work with him on the campaign.  They start by having him do a cross-country trip giving prepared speeches that just tell that crowd what they want to hear.  He is equipped with a tour bus and a “special assistant” named Nikki (Stephanie March), trained specifically to relax him (a service he never takes up.)  After a visit from his brother, a bail bondsman named Mitch (Bernie Mac), makes him realize that the speeches weren’t what was really on his mind, he throws them out and begins doing things his way.  The strategy works, and he begins rising in the polls against his opponent, current Vice-President Brian Lewis (Nick Searcy), who, as he says, has eight years of experience in the White House, is a war hero, and is a cousin of Sharon Stone.  All the while he is trying to attract the attention of a woman from the old neighborhood named Lisa Clark (Tamala Jones), who likes him for who and what he is, not what he can give her.  Suddenly things go bad for the Gilliam campaign when Mays makes a controversial statement while he thought a camera wasn’t on.  That and the fact that he hasn’t chosen a running mate yet makes his numbers go down.  Mays decides to appoint Mitch to be his running mate, and the two go after Lewis for a debate.  If Mays can get Lewis to debate, he might win back the public’s trust and become the first black President in US history.


This movie is able to show why Rock is great before a live audience, but not when he has to involve acting.  He is not a good actor, and aside from a few exaggerated facial expressions, is very wooden.  He only shined in this movie when he had to give some speeches, which was kind of like doing a stand-up routine.


I will admit, I laughed several times during this movie, but I groaned about the same amount of times.  There were several recurring gags that had me in stitches (don’t worry, I won’t spoil them for you), but several times I was rolling my eyes, especially when they were making the white people do clichéd “white” things, like dance goofy and be uptight.  I know they had black people also doing clichéd “black” things in the recent blockbuster hit Bringing Down the House (see my review), but it was the silly things the white people were doing which made that movie funny.  In this movie, it’s just lame.


One thing I wanted to mention about including a love interest in a movie: either do it fully, or don’t do it at all.  The Lisa Clark character is barely in the movie, and if she had been written out, it wouldn’t have altered the plotline much.  My business partner James and I noticed that hip-hop singer Nate Dogg and his background singers made more appearances in the movie than Jones.

If you are curious to see Rock’s directorial debut, which he also co-wrote with Ali LeRoi, Head of State may make you question his abilities.  This remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is not a good start for him.  Maybe he might fair better in something original.  He has already gone down the remake road (he co-wrote and starred in the failed 2001 remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan called Down to Earth), and obviously remakes don’t serve him well.  Fortunately, because of a few decent gags and the always great Bernie Mac, I’m giving this movie a higher grade than it could have gotten, but Rock is on notice.  Find the magic that you put into your stand-up routines and apply it to your next directing project (you don’t really have to be in it!)  Otherwise, your fans might start groaning as much as the critics already do.

Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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