Head of State (PG-13) ★★★

Review Date: March 28th, 2003

A good-hearted Washington, D.C., neighborhood alderman is plucked from obscurity to run as a candidate for President of the United States. Sure, like that would happen.


To get around the premise to Head of State, you must be willing to suspend your disbelief. Don't worry; it doesn't hurt. In fact, it keeps you rolling in the aisles. Chris Rock plays Mays Gilliam, a Washington, D.C., alderman who listens to the people in his neighborhood and does everything he can to help them out. Unfortunately, he's just not good at playing the political game--he's got too much heart. Then, just as Mays is about to lose his job, he unwittingly becomes part of a much bigger political machine. After the frontrunner in the race for president dies in a plane crash, party pols--including Sen. Bill Arnot (James Rebhorn), advisor Debra Lassiter (Lynn Whitfield) and campaign manager Martin Geller (Dylan Baker)--ask Mays to step in as their nominee. Say what? Well, to be honest, those behind the scenes have chosen the unsuspecting Mays because they know darn well no one is going to vote for him. Losing now will give Arnot a better chance to win the presidential election in four years. What they don't expect is Mays's determination to do good, as he throws away all conventions and incorporates his own special brand of campaigning (his motto: ''That ain't right!''). At first, only his older brother--and eventual running mate--Mitch (Bernie Mac) and new love Lisa (Tamala Jones) understand how truly effective Mays could be if elected president. Soon everyone does.


It's always been sort of a hit-and-miss situation with Rock and his films--the last two (Bad Company, Down to Earth) have bombed at the box office. Fortunately, Head of State captures just the right mixture of Rock's biting humor and social commentary--and even though the comedian likes to put on the smart ass routine most of the time, deep down, the guy has a heart of gold. I imagine Mays Gilliam is pretty close to who Rock really is. Even though Rock's good, when the hilarious Bernie Mac hits the scene, he turns the film up a notch. Mac, whose career has skyrocketed in the last few years with his hit TV show, has one of those expressive faces that tells it all. You can feel the energy rising when Mitch walks off the train, dressed to the nines to meet his brother and assume his duties as Mays's running mate. In the supporting roles, Whitfield does a nice job as the snooty advisor whose ideas about politics are happily changed by Gilliam's unorthodox ways, while Robin Givens goes out on a limb, playing Mays' shrewish ex-girlfriend who dumps the guy but desperately tries to get him back when she realizes where he's heading. Rebhorn and Nick Searcy, who plays Mays's snarky opponent Vice President Brian Lewis, easily take on the roles as the evil politicians. Only Jones (Two Can Play That Game) is wasted as the sweet girl-next-door.


As star, co-writer and producer, Rock also makes his directorial debut with Head of State. In total control of the project, the comedian grabs the chance to incorporate whatever bits and outrageous behavior tickle his funny bone. In the film's opening credits, for example, he lists several political leaders, including Bob Dole, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, and then states ''Who are NOT in this movie.'' You know from then on that you're in for a farcical ride along the road to Pennsylvania Avenue. Some moments are hysterical: Mitch explaining why, with a background as a bail bondsman, he's more than qualified to enter politics (''I can bail out the United States'') or secret servicemen coming out of nowhere to whisk off an unwanted ex-girlfriend. Other moments miss the mark: a room full of uptight Washington, D.C., muckity mucks getting jiggy with it as soon as Nelly's ''Hot in Herre'' comes on? Please. It's Rock's show, though, and he wants us to laugh long and hard--but he still sends out the message that anyone who puts his mind to it can make a difference.

Bottom Line

With Head of State, Chris Rock and Bernie Mac give audiences a much-needed excuse to poke fun at--but also admire--the way U.S. democracy is supposed to work.