DAVE CHAPPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY
**1/2 (out of 5)
March 3, 2006
Dave Chappelle as HIMSELF
Kanye West as HIMSELF
The Roots as THEMSELVES
Erykah Badu as HERSELF
Mos Def as HIMSELF
Talib Kweli as HIMSELF
Dead Prez as HIMSELF
Common as HIMSELF
Jill Scott as HERSELF
Studio: Rogue Pictures
Directed by: Michel Gondry
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There comes a time in the life of most popular comedians when they can go on stage, say a canned line from their routine and bring down the house. Billy Crystal could do this with “You look mahvelous.” Dana Carvey could do this with “Isn’t that special?” And Andy Kaufman could do this with “Thank you very much.”
In reality, when a comedian gets to this point, they really cease being funny and get laughs more often for who they are rather than what they necessarily say. Dave Chappelle could easily be at this point if he hadn’t wigged out last year and gone off the deep end.
In an attempt to revive his career and distance himself from his wildly popular but tumultuous sketch comedy vehicle “Chappelle’s Show,” he is out with a new film. Shot entirely before his breakdown and subsequent “spiritual retreat” to South Africa, “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” focuses on his efforts to organize a concert in Brooklyn.
I went into this film expecting more comedy than was ever provided. Even if you look at the advertising and trailers, you’d get the sense that it has a good deal of Chappelle riffing with average people on the street. If this were the case, the film would have been better.
Instead, it is primarily about the rap and hip-hop artists that anchor Chappelle’s block party. Even when it isn’t featuring scenes from the concert with Kanye West, Mos Def and Erykah Badu, it is laden with rehearsal footage or clips of the artists pontificating.
Rather than being an edgy-yet-relevant slice of life piece, it is more reminiscent of the rockumentaries from the 1970s and 1980s which showed artists taking themselves much too seriously.
All this wouldn’t be so bad if the man-on-the-street bits were good. Unfortunately, they’re not. Instead, Chappelle uses his presence rather than actual comedic talents to try to generate a laugh. For example, one scene showed him trying on pimp-style suits at a store in his home turf of Ohio. This situation was ripe for comedy bits, but instead he took the time grunting and uttering unfunny lines like “Pimpalicious.”
Another glaring example that Chappelle just may not be as funny as his reputation implies is a scene near the end of the film where he riffs on the mike with Mos Def on the drums. Chappelle uses the set-up to tell a few jokes in the style of a night club act. However, the jokes are old. And they aren’t even his. It’s a lazy comedian at his worst, and that’s disappointing because Chappelle is so much better than that.
I’m from Ohio, and this film generated quite a buzz because some of it was shot in Dayton, which is around the corner from Chappelle’s home town of Yellow Springs. However, instead of showing his love for his home-grown fans in the Buckeye state, Chappelle quickly abandons them when he gets on the New York scene. It seems that the whole Ohio connection was just thrown in as an after thought.
There are a few quirky characters Chappelle meets along the way, namely two freaky hippie types who live next door to where the block party takes place. The scenes where Chappelle interviews them are hilarious, and it’s clear both characters took way too much acid in the 60s. However, these scenes are so rare in the film it doesn’t even seem like part of the same film.
Other times when he has the opportunity to comedy, Chappelle falls into the trap of being socially relevant by interviewing day care workers and letting the hip hop artists preach politics to a marching band.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the bands featured in “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” you’ll like the movie. It’s really more about them than anything else. However, if you were hoping for some laughs and clever bits from a funny guy, you’d be better off renting an old DVD of “Chappelle’s Show” – or at the very least catch him in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” when it reruns next on TBS.