Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Movie Review: "Dave Chappelle's Block Party"

Starring Dave Chappelle, Kanye West, The Roots, The Fugees, Mos Def, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu
Directed by Michel Gondry

Official Web site

Despite a genuinely good-natured vibe emanating from the proceedings, “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” plays more like a get-together where you feel like you should be having a better time than you are.

Clearly that wasn’t a problem for the several hundred (maybe several thousand) people Chappelle invites and busses into Brooklyn from Dayton, Ohio, near his hometown in Yellow Springs, to see an unpublicized concert featuring a multitude of rap and hip-hop artists. Among the musical acts featured are Kanye West, the Roots, Erykah Badu, and a reunited Fugees (best known for the hit remake of “Killing Me Softly,” performed here in about the only uninterrupted performance of the film). Chappelle even manages to get an entire Ohio college marching band to the show, promising free transportation, food and board.

“Block Party” certainly shows a softer side to the frequently funny, yet controversial comedian who is probably now more noted for walking away from his hit Comedy Central show than for the sometimes brilliant content of the show itself. Just so people don’t think this was Chappelle’s answer to the pressures he said he was feeling from the show, the film quickly mentions the events leading up to and including the concert took place in September 2004 – well before his much publicized “escape” to Africa last year.

The documentary itself is played out in a rather disjointed style, which keeps viewers on their toes, but can also be rather disconcerting. This is especially true with the heavy editing done during the various musical performances, as songs are started and frequently intercut with backstage comments presumably filmed after the concert, as well as moments with Chappelle interacting with some of the concert invitees.

To be fair, the material that is included in between the music is often more interesting than what’s happening on stage (of particular interest is an extremely odd Brooklyn couple who own a towering mess of a home near where the concert will be filmed). But director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”) keeps the film from feeling very cohesive, which is likely going to make some viewers wish for more music, while others, including myself, will desire to see more of Chappelle.

As it is, the film is sporadically funny with occasionally interesting musical moments, including an impromptu performance of “Jesus Walks” with West and the marching band. But ultimately, “Block Party” is not entirely successful in the laughter or musical departments. On the other hand, it sure looked like the concert’s audience had a good time. Maybe you just had to be there.

Grade: C
(Rated R for language.)

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