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film: Losing by a Landslide

"Head of State" tries too many things for any one of them to work.

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In the film, Rock stars as Mays Gilliam, a liberal Washington, D.C., neighborhood alderman who is always fighting for the underdog. When we first see Gilliam, he's racing against a ticking clock to rescue a woman and her cat from a building that is about to blow up. The media brands him a hero and all is well until Gilliam's girlfriend, Kim (Robin Givens), dumps him, and Gilliam loses his job, his car and his dignity. Are you seeing the connection to the country song yet?

An odd turn of events prompts a power-crazed senator (James Rebhorn) to concoct a scheme to tap a candidate no one would vote for, and our underdog is plucked from obscurity to become a candidate for president.

Though his campaign managers try to mold Gilliam into a traditional starched white-collar candidate, the mold doesn't hold. Gilliam finds that he can sway more voters by just being himself. He dons stereotypical garb — fancy sweats and oversized jewelry — to get his message across. Unfortunately, Rock also turns to stereotypes to get his directorial message across. It becomes cumbersome and self-serving.

Gilliam turns his attention to a fetching young gas station attendant, Lisa Clark, played by Tamala Jones ("On the Line"). Gilliam spots Clark serving refreshments at a political fund-raiser for his campaign and whisks her onto the dance floor, prompting a group of stodgy, affluent guests to break into the Electric Slide. We could possibly believe this relationship if there were any emotion attached to it, but there isn't. It just seems to have been thrown in for good measure.

Up to this point, Rock hasn't shown us what has made him an award-winning comedian. His cocky, targeted matter-of-fact humor seldom makes an appearance in the film. Many of his jokes fall back on clichés. His acting is as stiff and emotionless as cardboard — we never see his personality burst through.

That's not to say there aren't some good laughs in the film. Most come with the introduction of Gilliam's older brother, Mitch, played by Bernie Mac ("Ocean's 11," "The Bernie Mac Show"). Mitch is a bail bondsman who becomes Gilliam's running mate. Irreverent, with a tendency to sucker punch people in the face or stomach, Mitch is extremely supportive of his younger brother. Some of the film's funniest moments can be found in Mitch's television interviews with the press and his desire to get the people to the polls — he rounds up all the hookers in town and herds them in. Unfortunately, Mitch only appears in the latter half of the film — not long enough to save it.

"Head of State" could have been fall-on-the-floor funny. The premise is cute, but Rock just can't quite pull it off. He tries to do too much with the film. On the other hand, he does have the makings of the perfect country song. **

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