Dave Chappelle throws a freewheeling musical bash that's all about turning neighbors into friends.
According to Dave Chappelle, "Every comedian wants to be a musician and every musician thinks he's funny," and mostly each faction is kidding itself. Chappelle doesn't flatter himself -- he says he's a "mediocre" talent who has talked his way into a fortune -- but "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" confirms that he's not just instinctually funny, he has impeccable musical taste.
The film, directed by music-video veteran Michel Gondry, documents a Brooklyn street concert that Chappelle organized in late 2004 as his Comedy Central series was becoming a major hit. Rather then celebrate his success with an exclusive bash, he invited thousands of regular folks to enjoy his favorite bands at a free concert, featuring a dream team of socially conscious R&B and hip-hop acts: Erykah Badu, Common, Dead Prez, Big Daddy Kane, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, the Roots, poet/singer Jill Scott, Kanye West and the big surprise of the night, the reunited Fugees. This is definitely the party of the season.
The shindig was a freewheeling, friendly affair that was all about drawing people together. Chappelle and a camera crew visited his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, as he handed out "golden tickets" for transportation and lodging to anyone interested in attending. Relishing his Willy Wonka moment, Chappelle offered the passes to folks on the street, mom-and-pop shopkeepers, and even a local college marching band. Some takers looked like they'd be more at home at a Lawrence Welk tribute, but looks can be deceiving. "Old people looove me," Chappelle proclaims.
Well, really, who wouldn't? At the concert site in New York, the comedian drops in on the neighbors, an eccentric hippie couple restoring an abandoned church, and a Hispanic woman who runs the day-care center where rap legend Biggie Smalls spent his early years. Chappelle treats them with the same teasing respect he gives to his famous, ultracool performers.
The concert footage is energetic, if not especially innovative. The main visual novelty is the sight of the bouncing audience defying the weather in clear plastic ponchos. "Five thousand black people, chillin' in the rain. Nineteen white people, peppered in," Chappelle mock-freestyles.
"This is the concert I always wanted to see," he said, and a lot of people will feel the same way. Without delivering the message on the end of a two-by-four, his party is a celebration of harmony.
Chappelle has become a major star joking about race, but he's an equal-opportunity offender, mocking even his own biases. Treating society's flaws humorously doesn't abolish them, but it ameliorates and conciliates by holding up our imperfections to laughter. Inviting a cross-section of society to a party doesn't erase the differences between them, but it allows for a sense of fellowship as they share something they enjoy together. What's a block party, after all, but an opportunity for neighbors to become friends?
Dave Chappelle's Block Party
***½ out of four stars
The setup: A bumpin' hip-hop and comedy concert.
What works: The host's sly, easygoing wit, his insightful tribute to the off-kilter genius of Thelonious Monk, and the fine lineup of musical talent.
What doesn't: The camera sometimes cuts away from some great music for less-than-magical offstage moments.
Great line: Chappelle's face-off against an amateur rapper with weak rhymes and clunky meter.
Rating: R; language.