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  Chris Rock and Bernie Mac in Head of State
Chris Rock and Bernie Mac in 'Head of State'

All the President's Homeboys: 'Head of State' Movie Review by Spyder Darling

Talk about Rush Limbaugh's worst nightmare. Chris Rock is running for president and Bernie Mac is his running mate. You won't need a Gallup poll to predict which way Head of State is going to roll. Alas, the chief difficulty with political satire is coming up with bedfellows who are stranger and situations more ridiculous than the real deal.

Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman and Barry Levinson could barely get a yap out of their Capitol Hill caper comedy, Wag the Dog, back in 1997, the hazy, crazy dot.com days. It seemed happy days were not only here again, but they were here to stay. Wrong. Now, one recession, rigged election and reality-TV-obsessed generation later, how could Chris Rock and Bernie Mac hope to get their hip-hop agenda over on audiences that are anxious about the Iraqi war, and the eventual break up of J-Lo and Ben Affleck?

Nevertheless, throwing its backward-turned cap into Tinsel town's box-office ring is Head of State, a mostly likable and entertaining political spoof, albeit more slapstick than savvy. Triple-threat Saturday Night Live alumnus Chris Rock directed, co-wrote and stars in the movie that tells the tale of well-meaning Wash. D.C. alderman Mays Gilliam (Rock).

We know Gilliam is a peep of the people because he keeps it real in denim, rather than a pin-striped jacket and spends his days humbly rescuing cats from tenements marked for demolition and promising rides to hard-luck locals should the bus drivers go on strike. All seems fine for Gilliam until he returns to his apartment to find his sexy-but-psycho girlfriend Kim (Robin Givens) is fed up with Mays' lack of ambition, taste in attire and ability in the bedroom.

In fact, so whack in the sack is Gilliam, claims Kim, that guys with spinabifita have satisfied her more. (Not many writers/directors/actors can find the essential comedy in diseases of the spinal cord.) Mad props to the genius of Chris Rock, whose inner-city social satire is rivaled only by Detroit's poet-in-residence Eminem. Anyway, Kim splits leaving Mays with a pile of unpaid bills, resulting in his car getting repossessed and his alderman's office closed for nonpayment of rent. Finally, a bus runs over Gilliam's bicycle and he's left standing in the rain with nowhere to go and no way to get there if he did. Calgon, crack, or Colt 45, take me away already!

Just as Mays' whole life has gone down the toilet faster than a kilo of coke in a "COPS" episode, a limo pulls up and Gilliam is recruited, due to the accidental death of a political party's candidate, to be the new nominee for President of the United States. Not because Gilliam can win against Vice President Lewis (Nick Searcy), who's also a "war hero and Sharon Stone's cousin," but to bring minorities back to the political process and to hopefully support Sen. Bill Arnot (James Rebhorn – Sarah Jessica Parker's politician boyfriend who liked to be peed on in "Sex and the City"). Arnot is the party's 2008 presidential candidate, Head of State's chief conspirator.

So, faster than a flaming Richard Pryor, Gilliam takes off on the campaign-and-fund-raising trail, staffed with all the necessary aides of the trade: speech writers, security chief, even a stand-in for assassination attempts. With Mays' relaxed charm, edgy-but-non-threatening mannerisms and common-sense approach to the issues, soon it seems he has a shot at winning the most important race of his life, one he never even imagined running. All he needs is his Vice President. Enter Bernie Mac, Mays' bad-ass brother, a bitch-slapping bail bondsman from Chicago who becomes Gilliam's running mate by default when no one else will join the Afro-sheen dream team. As expected, Mac plays his role with the nuance and subtlety of Mike Tyson in a water ballet. But, hey, that's funny and that's plenty for this movie.

As if Head of State's "the only thing white is the house" tagline weren't obvious enough, it's clear from the opening credits – which boldly list Rudy Giuliani, Roy Lieberman and Hillary Clinton only to follow with a disclaimer that none of them are in the movie – that this isn't All the President's Men.

Despite its farcical shortcomings, at least Head of State isn't about a plot to blow up the world and offers entertaining insight about the present political process, even if Rock's remedies come in an extra-large can of "whoop ass." Though more sophisticated crowds might demand a recount (or refund), as long as you're a supporter of the rubber-chicken-in-every-pot party platform and have a large enough popcorn to go with it, there are worse places to spend an hour and a half than in Head of State's Brave Nubian World.

Can I get an "Amen!", a Philly blunt, and a quart of Olde English?

March 2003

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