DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY directed by Michel Gondry, with Chappelle, Kanye West, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Common, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, the Roots and the Fugees. An Odeon Films release. 100 minutes. Opens Friday (March 3). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
A lot of crazy shit's gone down with Dave Chappelle over the last year.
Last April, the gangly comedian, whose wildly popular Chappelle's Show made the phrase "I'm Rick James, bitch" the new "You go, girl!" for white people, mysteriously vanished during production of his show's third season. He broke his unprecedented $50-million contract and sparked turbulent tabloid rumours of craziness and drug dependency that only grew wilder when news finally broke that he'd surfaced in, of all places, South Africa.
A few weeks ago, a re-domesticated Chappelle broke his silence while getting hauled over the coals and having his sanity further questioned by Oprah, who continually reminded the poor guy during the hour that he had indeed rejected seven zeros.
At such a precarious time in his career, Chappelle needs this movie - a guaranteed hit - like Tyrone, one of the characters from his show, needed a hit of crack. Had this been some terrible formula comedy, it could have been the final blow.
But Chappelle has taste.
So on a low budget, and with the crucial help of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind/White Stripes music vid director Michel Gondry, he put on "the concert he's always wanted to see." The lineup is a hiphop devotee's wettest of dreams, and the configurations are great, too: Kanye West and Mos Def, Common and Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu (together, later, singing You Got Me), all backed by the Roots. And holy shit - the reunion of the Fugees. It's their first show in damn near a decade, so we can forgive Lauryn Hill for forgetting a couple of lyrics to Killing Me Softly.
The movie cuts between scenes of the megaphone-wielding comic inviting unsuspecting folks from his hometown, Dayton, Ohio (including the Central State University marching band, who perform with Kanye), to Chappelle scouting and rehearsing in Brooklyn, where the secret show happens, and the concert itself.
The film is incredibly candid, and Chappelle is naturally funny. You die when he prepares an old-school call-and-response joke routine for the show with Mos Def on drums, goofs off with little kids at a neighbouring daycare or battles an aggressively cuddly big man with a Mr. T haircut onstage.
Gondry appreciates idiosyncracy and shows Chappelle interacting with a number of great real-life characters like the lady from Dayton who, oh gosh, has never been to a rap show before; the occult-obsessed couple who own the party's spot; and, touchingly, a New York guy called Andre 4000 who does some CL Smooth-style rhymes during his work break.
More comics should be so "insane."