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Paramount Studios presents
Down To Earth (2001)

"I got hit by a truck. I got smashed by a car. I got shot. And now you want to take my soul? What are you - The Blair Witch?"
- Lance Barton (Chris Rock)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: July 16, 2001

Stars: Chris Rock, Regina King, Chazz Palminteri
Other Stars: Frankie Faison, Eugene Levy, Greg Germann, Mark Addy
Director: Chris and Paul Weitz

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Language, sexual humor, and some drug references
Run Time: 01h:27m:02s
Release Date: July 10, 2001
UPC: 097363377849
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+BC+ D+

DVD Review

Down To Earth is Chris Rock's rewrite of Warren Beatty's 1978 Heaven Can Wait, which itself was an update of 1941s' classic Here Comes Mr. Jordan. So in terms of originality, this isn't exactly a unique tale. Man dies, goes to Heaven, and is allowed to return to Earth in a different body. Like Beatty's treatment, Rock has tweaked the plot enough to create a fresh spin on a warhorse of a Hollywood story. The only problem is the casting of Rock as the lead, which may disappoint some fans and mar their impression of the film. If you are expecting a typical sharp-tongued Chris Rock performance, you may feel duped by this fairly family-friendly version.

Despite a couple of decent film roles (most notably Dogma), Chris Rock is at his best as a stand-up comic. His rapid-fire delivery and clear-cut observations have proven him to be one genuinely funny guy. Even with the inevitable comparisons to Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor, Rock has managed to forge a distinct name on the basis that he is really a talented comic. By cleaning up his act a bit, Rock has written Down To Earth as a vehicle to broaden his audience base, while still appealing to the diehards.

In this new version, directed by American Pie's Chris and Paul Weitz, Rock is Lance Barton, a struggling stand-up comic/bike messenger who dies after being hit by a truck. On his arrival in Heaven, which looks like a nightclub, Barton meets a pair of angels: Mr. King (Palminteri) and Keyes (Levy). Tough guy King is the second-in-command in Heaven, and he decides who stays and who goes. Keyes, a slightly bumbling typical Levy-ization, actually 'took' Barton before his time, so a deal is struck. Barton can return to Earth, but it has to be in another body. Of course that body just happens to be the exact opposite of Barton—a 50-ish white millionaire, Charles Wellington.

The remainder of Down To Earth is based on the joke that Wellington is now really Barton on the inside, though the audience only sees Barton, with the exception of a few scenes. The new Wellington/Barton falls in love with Sontee (Jerry Maguire's Regina King), a woman who was battling Wellington on his proposed closing of a local hospital. Will they fall in love? Will Wellington/Barton do the right thing? The rest of the plot is fairly predictable, and moves along at a nice clip.

To call Rock's performance toned down and cleaned up would be an understatement. Is it a bad thing? Not really. There are moments when the Rock of old comes out, but those are interrupted with scenes where it seems that he is flatly reading the script off of a teleprompter. I will admit I chuckled out loud a few times, but if you are expecting a belly busting, laugh riot, you will be in for a surprise. I personally like my Rock a little more edgy, but I give the guy credit for taking a stab at a more mainstream role.

The Weitz Brothers choice of Down To Earth as their follow-up to the horny humor of American Pie is also an against the grain option. I wouldn't expect the typical American Pie fan to enjoy Down To Earth, since the type of humor is as different as night and day. The Weitzes direct this film with a gentle, sweet tone and don't incorporate a single bodily-fluid joke or bare-breasted babe scene.

Down To Earth comes across well on DVD, and it looks surprisingly good reduced to television-screen-sized viewing. Even though Toronto doubles as New York City (usually a kiss of death), the production values are on the level of any similar film in the genre. Likewise, the supporting cast, working within the confines of somewhat one-dimensional characters, give a set of decent performances.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Considering Down To Earth was released theatrically in 2001, it would stand to reason that Paramount would dress up the DVD release with a decent transfer. Not to worry—they have. Presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic format, this disc has excellent color contrast. The black level and depth detail are both great, as well. In only a few scenes did I notice any image issues, which were primarily a result of a few gaudy, checked outfits worn by Rock.

Down To Earth looks terrific on the small screen, thanks to a respectable transfer by Paramount.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is mediocre, with little in the way of ambient or musical cues to make good use of the rear channels. While superior to the included 2.0 English mix, the 5.1 doesn't enhance the viewing significantly. In defense of Down To Earth, this is the type of movie that could play as well in mono, without suffering too much. After all, Here Comes Mr. Jordan told the same story ten times better without the benefit of a Dolby Digital mix.

A 2.0 French dubbed mix is also included, but I can't imagine a French-dubbed Chris Rock can really be that funny.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A weak set of extras, barely worthy of the mention. The 10-minute featurette "Down To Earth: A Look Inside" is nothing more than a happy talk promo piece featuring interviews with the directors and cast intercut with scenes from the film and an occasional behind-the-scenes shot. This is not so much an 'inside look' as an ego inflation festival. Directors Chris and Paul Weitz speak in such serious tones, you would think Down To Earth was intended as an art house film.

The trailer for Down To Earth is presented in widescreen format, and only merits mention because it features a number of scenes and lines that didn't make it into the final cut.

I'm not certain what type of 'extra' would have been a plus, with the possible exception of a Chris Rock commentary. But as is, the extras don't really add up.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

I like Chris Rock. I think the guy is funny. I didn't hate Down To Earth. Once I adjusted to the fact that Rock had taken the sharp edges off of his humor for this film, I could appreciate Down To Earth for what it is. The end result is a nice, upbeat family-friendly film. It's not perfect. It's not great. There are some funny moments, but the humor never veers too far off the politically correct path, and for this reason I can't recommend this film to everyone. But if you need a title that will work well as a 'family-night' rental (let's say age 9 and up), then give Down To Earth a try. If you want raw Chris Rock, look elsewhere.


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