A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Down to Earth has strong language, including frequent use of the "N" word. (The movie points out that everything depends on whether the word is said by a white person or a black person -- this is well worth discussing.) There are sexual references and situations, including adultery and a proposed menage a trois (with two women in bed). A couple's sexual relationship includes insults and fighting. Characters drink and smoke, and make drug references. Characters are killed (some accidentally) and one commits suicide because he has lost his money.
What's the story?
In this refresh of the play originally called Heaven Can Wait, struggling stand-up comedian Lance Barton (Chris Rock) is prematurely delivered to heaven by an angel named Keyes (Eugene Levy) in DOWN TO EARTH. Keyes' boss decides to send Lance back to Earth, and the funny man agrees to temporarily inhabit the body of the extremely wealthy Charles Wellington, a white man in his sixties whose young wife and assistant are trying to kill him. Lance falls for Sontee (Regina King) -- who arrives to tell the heartless Wellington off -- and he struggles to portray a rich white guy. When he tries to do his usual stand-up routine on the differences between blacks and whites, the audience is shocked and offended. Somehow Sontee sees past his appearance. As they begin to fall in love, Lance is reluctant to leave Wellington's body but manages to take what he has learned when it is time to move on.
Is it any good?
The people behind this frivolous comedy (the Weitz brothers, of American Pie and Chuck and Buck) wisely devote 25 percent of the film to Rock's stand-up routine. Chris Rock has a likeable comic presence and has made some memorable screen appearances in movies like Dogma and Nurse Betty. But he's not an actor. He has no capacity to show even the few emotions called for in Down to Earth. During the dramatic and romantic episodes, he always appears to be counting the minutes before he can go back on stage. It is also a real disappointment to see the comic talents of one of today's most talented actresses, Regina King (of Jerry Maguire and How Stella Got Her Groove Back) neglected.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it would be like to inhabit the body of someone of another race (or gender). Tellingly, since he always appears the same to himself, Lance discovers that a new body he is inhabiting is black only when he tries to hail a cab and none will stop for him.
How does humor change, based on who is telling the joke? What jokes do you tell about your own group that might offend you coming from someone else? Are there jokes you might tell among your own group that you would not say in a mixed group?
Some families might want to talk about the conflicts between making a profit and helping the community raised by Sontee's protests.
- In theaters: February 16, 2001
- On DVD or streaming: July 10, 2001
- Cast: Chris Rock, Eugene Levy, Regina King
- Director: Paul Weitz
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 87 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: language, sexual humor and some drug references
- Last updated: April 24, 2020
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