DOWN TO EARTH
In remaking Here Comes Mr Jordan, Heaven Can Wait updated but essentially told the same story. On the other hand, Down to Earth only uses the shell of the story and instead reinvents itself as a racial body exchange comedy. In fact, Down to Earth seems less like a remake of Heaven Can Wait than it does a remake of the race exchange comedy Watermelon Man (1970). (In this respect, Down to Earth is not unlike The Preachers Wife (1996), another recent remake of a 1940s eschatological light fantasy film, which redid the old story with a principally Black cast in both cases, the film adds social commentary concerning itself with the plight of Black neighbourhoods under threat). More noticeable is Down to Earths turning Heaven Can Wait from a light feelgood fantasy into a vehicle for Black comedian Chris Rock.
Down to Earth is directed by brothers Chris and Paul Weitz both co-wrote and Paul directed the teen hit American Pie (1999) and both co-wrote Antz (1998) and The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000). Together, the Weitzs made About a Boy (2002) and Chris later went onto make some mainstream success with The Golden Compass (2007) and New Moon/Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009), as well as the scripts for Cinderella (2015), Rogue One (2016) and The Mountain Between Us (2017), while Paul made two unsuccessful comedies and entered the genre with Cirque du Freak: The Vampires Assistant (2009). To their credit, where one expected Down to Earth to head straight for sub-Farrelly Brothers gross-out humour, it remains relatively restrained. Although, Chris Rocks stand-up routine does seem at odds with a film trying to make a serious big statement where the message about corporate ruthlessness and community gentrification is all co-opted as part of Rocks stand-up material.
Down to Earth is not a particularly good film but it has enough moments that make it passably likable. Chris Rocks live-wire performance creates a spark of energy at the centre of the film that enervates a story that would otherwise be showing its considerable age. There are times it is funny notably whenever Black maid Wanda Sykes appears on screen or in wife Jennifer Coolidges attempts to revive Wellingtons flagging sexual interest. There is a very funny scene near the end of the film with Chris Rock trying to hail a cab only to be driven past three times and then yell in triumph Yes, Im a Black man again. There is also something amusing to the idea of Heaven envisioned as a Las Vegas lounge where the Heavenly supervisor in the person of Chazz Palminteri looks like a shady Mafia type.
There is also some surprisingly sharp and pointed social commentary to the humour the film gets mileage out of the idea of the reactions of a Black crowd to a white man telling typical Black stand-up humour or of a middle-aged white man dancing to rap and singing along to lyrics like Kill, Whitey, Kill. In placing such material in the mouth of an aged, conservative white man, Rock perhaps unintentionally reveals the inherent anti-White racism in rap lyrics and in the constant racial self-abrogation in much modern Black stand-up humour the likes of D.L. Hughley, Steve Harvey, Martin Lawrence and Rock himself. It is here that Down to Earth perhaps inadvertently stumbles onto something approaching the genuine social commentary it wants to make.