Chris Rock is a very, very funny comedian. The equally funny Bernie Mac, who can wear a loud suit like nobody's business, would seem a perfect foil. So why is "Head of State," co-written and directed by Rock and starring Rock and Mac, so leaden, so lacking in comic timing? Perhaps, to borrow a convention from last week's "Dreamcatcher," aliens took over their bodies — or their agents'.
In this tiresome variation on "The Candidate" or "Dave," Rock plays Mays Gilliam, a Washington, D.C., alderman from a district so dangerous "you can get shot while you're getting shot." (Rim shot.) When the front-runner presidential candidate meets his demise, Gilliam is chosen to take his place. (Why? Because a big-wig senator wants a sure loser to run, so as to have a clear field in 2008 for his own ... oh, never mind, it doesn't really matter.)
A few funny ideas pop up — Gilliam's opponent's campaign slogan, for example, is "God Bless America, and no place else" — but they're all pounded into the ground, through endless repetition. There's a funny dance number at a fund-raiser, but Rock (making his directing debut) doesn't seem to know where to stop, and the scene quickly runs out of steam.
It's hard to believe Rock couldn't have found some sharper humor in this ripe territory. (One of the better bits: When Rock doesn't show at an "anti-cancer rally," his opponent quickly spreads the word that Gilliam is For Cancer). But it's mostly just bland and occasionally embarrassing — in particular, Robin Givens' creepily over-the-top performance as Gilliam's nasty ex-fiancée. And Mac, as Gilliam's bail-bondsman brother, seems barely to be in the movie at all.
"Head of State" may fall victim to a thoughtless release date — wartime hardly seems the right time for this would-be political satire. But there's no right time for this movie.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org