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DVD ReviewIn the modern standup comedy world, Chris Rock is certainly living nicely at the top of the heap, with very few comics who can even come close to approaching his level of anger, energy and honest vitriol. His film career has been a little woozy, and Rock's strong suit is definitely the stage, where he prowls back and forth like a caged animal spewing a clever mix of social commentary and observation layered in sudden bursts of well-placed expletives. It's a delicate dance to combine "mature language" and comedy together into something that is neither too graphic or simply dirty to be dirty, and it is something Rock does extremely well. In short, he's funny.
Never Scared is the 39-year-old Rock's fourth HBO special, recorded in early 2004 at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in a fairly large venue that seems more suited for a rock concert than as a comedy stage. Decked out in a low-key dark maroon suit, Rock never stops moving, threatening to wear out a groove in the floorboards as he moves from one end of the wide stage to the other. That kind of movement is the equivalent of a rock star running from stage left to stage right, eager to work both sides of the arena lest someone get bored; Rock seems keenly aware of showing himself to his audience, and he works this to his advantage throughout his act.
Content-wise, the topics aren't necessarily the kind of stuff we haven't heard from countless other comics before (Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, drugs, marriage, sex), but with Rock it is all in that patented delivery of his. There is a professionally calibrated tempo to the way he punctuates his bits with equal parts urban brimstone and tempered observation before erupting with an often staggering variation of expletives. The bits themselves are funny, but it is the way the message is delivered that effectively sells the big laughs, and Rock seems to have reached a point where he can rail on graphically about female genitalia without fear of being seen as a misogynist. We've heard a million bad gags from a million bad comics about Michael Jackson and his family, but when Rock, in that brash style of his, refers to Jermaine as "a greasy mother****er" the simplicity and harshness of that stripped-down observation somehow seems even funnier than it should.
It's a testament to Rock that his 90-minute set absolutely breezed by—even though his unrelatable (to me, anyway) bits on rap had me close to temporarily tuning out— and the broad range of topics covered in Never Scared really showcases him as perhaps the current reigning king of standup. He moves between more urban themes (sprinkled with quite a bit of white vs. black jabs that often seem more like a lecture than humor—especially his segment on wealth) to broader mass-appeal subjects, including a brilliant chunk about marriage and "intercourse" that closes the show.
Social and political commentary aside, there are a lot of deep laughs to be found here, and for me I know I'll never be able to enjoy the addictive properties of a Krispy Kreme doughnut again without thinking of Rock's wicked new slogan for the chain.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Never Scared is presented in its original 1.33:1 fullframe, as it was when broadcast on HBO. There isn't much to harp on with regards to this transfer—it's pleasing—other than a minor beef that the blue backdrop reveals a bit of shimmer at times. What you see at the outset is pretty much what you get, as there isn't much variation in the lighting levels during the performance, and the quality of the transfer remains largely consistent throughout. Director Joel Gallen cycles through a few of the same old camera angles throughout, and some of the shots (specifically those done from the side) come off looking darker and muddier than when the comedian is shot straight on.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Audio comes with two options: 2.0 or 5.0 surround, and seeing as this is simply a standup routine there isn't that much of a call for an expansive presentation, so either choice will work out just fine. Both tracks offer clean dialogue, but the 5.0 mix spreads out the crowd sounds slightly, giving Rock's performance a closer approximation to that "live" feel.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Extras Review: The cover claims that this disc sports "exclusive unseen footage" and "approximately 15 minutes of additional material", but it is not indicated anywhere else as to what it is (I was expecting some sort of extra featurette), so I am left to assume that the 90 minute runtime contains the "unseen footage". Maybe, maybe not.
There is, however, a worthwhile extra, in the form of Chris Rock: Big Ass Jokes (26m:56s). Recorded in Atlanta in 1993, this was Rock's first half-hour HBO comedy special, and it is one of those time-capsule moments that gives viewers an opportunity to see how his standup routine has evolved over the preceding decade. While not nearly as polished as his current material, once this set gets rolling the baby-faced Rock (wearing a hideous and shiny blue shirt) uncorks with a remarkably strong set.
The disc is cut into 16 chapters.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsI can't count the number of times I've seen a standup comic do a painful seven minute routine that struggles to elicit a mild grin or two at best, which makes the consistent laughs found in Chris Rock's 90-minute performance here to prove to be something special. I'm not sure of the long-term replay value of a standup comedy DVD, but Rock's Never Scared is at the very least worth a rental.
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