Published Mar 01, 2006If history is kind to comedian Dave Chappelle, he'll be remembered as a populist, a visionary and an innovator. It's disarming praise for a guy who, almost more than the need to make people laugh, seems hell-bent on coming off like a regular person rather than an untouchable celebrity.
His recent behaviour (i.e., walking away from $50 million by quitting Chappelle's Show mid-season; his rambling, "deer in headlights" confessional on Oprah, etc.) speaks to that desire, as does this documentary about the self-conscious comic moving mountains to throw the party of 2004 for an audience of complete strangers.
Chappelle's objective is a fun one: to host an old-school Brooklyn block party featuring the biggest names in hip-hop playing live before a lucky crowd. The end result is hard to categorise, mixing elements of music and stand-up concert filmmaking with documentary-style profiles of the people who get swept up in this historic event. The musical line-up is astounding, with highlight performances from Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, the Roots, Big Daddy Kane, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Dead Prez, and the premiere reunion set by the Fugees.
The music comes off raw and, occasionally, some artists get lost in the muddy mix, but the spirited performances get heads nodding. As America's sharpest comic, Chappelle commands respect on the big screen the same way he did on Comedy Central. When he's on, he's like an affable reflection of Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks, endearing himself to everyone he meets. One aspect of the film finds Chappelle wandering around his hometown in Ohio handing out all expense paid party passes to unsuspecting citizens. On top of the middle-aged white women who make the trip are the Central State University marching band, who even collaborate with some of the superstars.
Far from exploiting small-town folks, Chappelle is genuinely humbled to bring his community to NYC. After all, a block party is about getting to know your neighbours and Chappelle relishes his role as the keenest social convenor around. (Alliance Atlantis)