ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  chris rock

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  comedy

LENGTH  -  95 minutes

RELEASED  -  28 march 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  dreamworks

OFFICIAL SITE  -  head of state

head of state - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from head of state at

buy the dvd from head of state at

when a presidential candidate dies unexpectedly in the middle of the campaign, the democratic party unexpectedly picks a washington, d.c. alderman, mays gilliam as his replacement.

when this film was developed, there was a similar film in pre-production with the same premise with an african american director attached.


picture from head of state

picture from head of state

picture from head of state


one out of four possible stars

Of all the horrible, mean, and nasty tricks for a studio to play on an unsuspecting viewer! Making a trailer for a movie look so much more entertaining than the actual movie turns out to be. How mean! In yet another case of "the trailer includes everything," the filmmakers, marketers, and producers of Head of State have managed to pull a fast one on their audience. With so many jokes piled into the trailer, and with a star (and first time director) like Chris Rock on the payroll, one cannot help but imagine the plethora of jokes that would fill this film from top to bottom.

Excepting the jokes in the trailer and the heaven-sent appearance of Bernie Mac, this film is a mish-mash of stupid (forgive me for using such a poor descriptive word, but this film demands it) jokes and unrealistic plot turns. While Chris Rock might be hilarious up on a stage with a microphone to his face, his films have not been the most successful in the comedy department. And when he's ventured into the world of drama (take last year's unappealing Bad Company), the results have not been much better. And while Rock should feel proud of his first directorial effort, as bringing a film to the screen is an incredible process, he hasn't yet perfected his tone in front of the camera to make sitting behind it a more intelligent experience.

There are a few one-liners and set pieces in Head of State which should have the audience laughing, but a fundamental problem with the plot keeps the film much too far from reality. That problem is not the premise of an African American President in the United States. The mistake is more from the tone and opinions Rock's character takes in wooing his constituents. While the film begins on a more believable note, with the portrayal of Rock's "Mays Gilliam" as a man of the people who wishes to help the poor neighborhood in which he grew up, the movie just takes a turn for the worse when Gilliam hits the campaign trail.

The plot involves an unnamed political party suffering the loss of its presidential candidates and the search for a replacement, who eventually turns out to be Washington D.C. alderman Mays Gilliam. While the idea of a black president is appealing, Rock doesn't do his character any favors by having Gilliam endorse child abuse, drug use, and prostitution. Now no intelligent person, regardless of their race, is going to vote for a candidate who speaks about these things like he's got his own stand up comedy routine. If Rock and his screenwriter had perhaps taken a different tract, such as making the film a bit more serious, allowing the outrageous characteristics of Mays Gilliam to reside in his brother instead, the film might have come off as more believable.

In one scene, where Mays has a debate with his opponent in the polls, "Vice President Lewis," played Nick Searcy, Mays receives a standing ovation for spitting out a piece of rhetoric that would have anyone with a modicum of intelligence shuddering at the thought that a person with those ideals could possible be elected president. The movie begins in an entertaining and slightly heart-warming fashion, but when Mays starts dressing and acting "how he wants to" instead of how his advisors think he should in order to win the election, all of Mays's credibility flies out the window.

The one saving grace of this film is the fact that Mays Gilliam's brother, "Mitch," is completely hilarious. Owing mightily to Bernie Mac's performance (much of which seems concocted on-the-fly), the scenes that include Mitch are worth watching and will have everyone rolling in the aisles. In fact, the single star I have given this film is due to Mac's performance alone. When the audience tires of the unrealistic portrayal of Mays Gilliam by Chris Rock, they will revel in what jokes Bernie Mac has to offer. This is quite an indictment on Rock, considering Rock plays the main character and also directed this film.

Dave, a similarly themed film, comes to mind when reading the plot summary for Head of State. In the Kevin Kline film, the movie balances its comedy (of which it has a lot) with an honest sense of drama and makes the story easily believable. But Rock's film doesn't follow in those footsteps. And neither do any of his characters (excepting Bernie Mac). Mays Gilliam would never be elected president, whether his skin color was black, white, or purple. His character (meaning his integrity) is so harsh and embarrassing that believing that the citizens of the United States would ever vote for him is impossible.

The most a viewer can hope to accomplish in watching this film is making sure he has his attention focused on the screen when Bernie Mac is on it. During Mac-less scenes, paying attention is negotiable. The giant diamonds in Rock's ears notwithstanding, Mays Gilliam is neither funny enough nor is he sincere enough to earn the viewers trust or sympathy. It is doubtless adding Bernie Mac to any film is an immediate boost for any film, but Head Of State cannot boast any other achievements.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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