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Chris Rock: But Seriously, Folks…

June 13, 2012

As my kids and I noted in our review of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Chris Rock has long followed in Eddie Murphy’s hoof… er, footsteps. They both went from SNL to HBO standup specials (Delirious, Bring the Pain) to buddy-cop comedies (48 HRS., Lethal Weapon 4) to providing the pipes for animated mammals. But there’s one area where Rock blazed the trail before Murphy: serious acting.

In 1991, with only a year of SNL and a few other scattered credits (including a guest shot on Miami Vice and a bit part as a Playboy Mansion valet in Beverly Hills Cop II) under his skinny belt, Rock delivered a searing performance as crackhead Pookie in the urban-cinema classic New Jack City. (“People still offer me crack when I walk down the street,” Rock recently joked on Conan.) Murphy didn’t make the full leap into drama until 25 years into his career, with 2006’s Dreamgirls. Then, after he didn’t win an Oscar, he went back to making nightmarish alleged comedies like Tower Heist and A Thousand Words and doing cartoonish voices (he’ll next be heard as the kung fu pooch in Hong Kong Phooey)

It’s taken Rock nearly as long to come back around, but after his solid Broadway debut as a drug counselor (a reformed Pookie?) in The Mother with the Hat, he finally seems ready to tackle more serious roles, than, say, Pootie Tang. (Never mind his sad cameo as a stay-at-home dad in What to Expect When You’re Expecting—I’ve gotta assume he did that one to help feed his kids.) He moves in that direction with his starring role opposite French auteur Julie Delpy in 2 Days in New York, her sequel to 2 Days in Paris that recently played at the Tribeca and Montclair Film Festivals and will be available on VOD next month in advance of its theatrical release.

Rock succeeds Adam Goldberg as Delpy’s onscreen squeeze, and he more than holds his own with an ensemble that also includes Delpy’s real-life dad, Albert, and cowriters Alexia Landeau and Alexandre Nahon as her sister and ex-boyfriend, respectively, as well as ace character actors Kate Burton and Dylan Baker. Rock’s role as a talk-radio host for NPR and Sirius allows him to use his standup skills to comment comedically on African-American life in the Obama era, but he’s just as strong in the more dramatic scenes where Delpy’s visiting relatives create tension in their previously happy blended-family household.

2 Days in New York won’t win Rock an Oscar, but it bodes well for potential downbeat endeavors. (Speaking of the Oscars, Rock emceed them long before Murphy dropped out of this year’s ceremony, so chalk another one up in his column.) But if he really wants to be taken seriously, Rock’s gotta sever his ties from his old SNL bros Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade. It’s time to stop making groaners like Grown-Ups—and its impending sequel—and grow up already.

What’s your favorite Chris Rock flick? Any Nurse Betty, Head of State of Dogma devotees out there? And please, spare me any Beverly Hills Ninja revisionism…

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4 Comments
  1. TV Gord permalink

    Yes yes YES! Give me the Dogma/Nurse Betty Chris Rock. I no longer trust him to go to a film based on his insincere word on talk show.

    • bruceafretts permalink

      I think you’ll like him in 2 Days in New York, Gord. It makes good use of both his comic and dramatic skills.

  2. I thought he made a fine and sensitive robot in A.I.

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