When Lance Barton (Chris Rock), a bicycle messenger by day and struggling
stand-up comedian by night, finds himself suddenly in heaven, he's convinced
there's been a mistake. And he's right: in a celestial foul-up, an assistant
(Eugene Ley) grabbed him before his time. So, since his body is no longer
available, he strikes a bargain with the Heavenly Host (Chazz Palminteri)
to return to Earth as Charles Wellington, a Manhattan billionaire who's
just been murdered by his trophy wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and executive
secretary (Greg Germann on TV's "Ally McBeal"). In his new guise, he's
attracted to a social activist (Regina King) who finds his sleazy
business practices reprehensible. It's a re-make of Warren Beatty's
"Heaven Can Wait" (1979), which was taken from "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"
(1941), based on Harry Segall's 1937 play - with the added twist of a
hip, young black man trapped in a rich, 50ish, white man's body, a racial
gimmick done before in Eddie Murphy's "Trading Places" (1983).
Which leads me to wonder exactly when does a remake become a rip-off?
This updated concept, geared to the MTV crowd, rarely works,
mostly due to the plodding pacing and inept comedic direction of brothers
Chris and Paul Weitz ("American Pie"). Last year, Chris Rock quit his
HBO comedy show to build a movie career and this is his first starring
role. Unfortunately, it's not a good showcase for his talents, since
supporting actors like Fred die Faison, Mark Addy and Wanda Sykes fare
far better than he does with the material. On the Granger Movie Gauge of
1 to 10, "Down to Earth" is a floundering 4. And, when it appears in
the video store, don't confuse it with a 1947 musical of the same name
starring Rita Hayworth.
Copyright © 2001 Susan Granger