HBO // 2000 // 2004 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 13th, 2004
He's perhaps the most celebrated comic in America today. The subject of multiple magazine covers and feature articles proclaiming him the funniest man alive, Chris Rock puts together routines that are two parts social commentary and one part titty jokes. His fourth HBO special comes roaring out of the gates -- will it be as ground-breaking and gut-busting as his previous installments?
It's been a while since Rock has gone on tour, a fact he confesses to at the beginning of the act ("New Jack City was a long time ago!"), but admits that he's been saving up ammunition for his next round of stand-up.
And ammunition he has; he opens fire for over ninety minutes, a far beefier HBO special than any he's ever done.
Returning to the city that hosted what was arguably the catalyst for his comeback, 1996's tour de force Bring the Pain, Rock performs to a full house in the cavernous Constitution Theatre in Washington, DC -- a testament to his popularity.
He immediately lets fly the with the stuff for which he is notorious -- stinging barbs mixed with stinging social commentary. From the intimate (his personal life) to the universal (the War on Terror), from racial classes to relationships, Rock holds nothing back.
I love Chris Rock. He's one of my favorite stand-ups, and used to be my number one (until I ruptured my stomach lining at a Brian Regan show). I own all of his HBO specials, his book, his Born Suspect CD, and even the atrocious CB4. And so it is with great sadness that I report this to you: this is the unfunniest Rock show I've ever seen.
Look, compared to the buffet of hacks out there, Rock's intelligent, thought-provoking comedy is light years beyond the norm. But laughing is laughing, and laughs were few and far between during Rock's latest.
I first found Rock via his Bring the Pain special, which still stands out as the single funniest hour of DVD footage I own. Even the profoundly edited cable version is hilarious. I rarely laugh at a DVD until my gut hurts (though Artisan tries its hardest), but that special had me in tears. It also catapulted Rock into the top tier of the stand-up circuit. Though he was forgettable as an SNL player, and pretty much all of his movies suck hard, the man is untouchable on stage with a mic.
Rock's follow-up to his 1996 home run was the ground-rule double Bigger and Blacker. Though not nearly as awesome as Bring the Pain, Bigger and Blacker is still great. Granted this is subjective, and I'm looking at his routine through the lens of a 27 year-old white New Hampshireite, but I felt there was a noticeable drop-off.
Alas, Never Scared easily occupies the bottom rung, and to me represents the least funny Rock has been. I'm not saying that it's awful; it's just not up to the ludicrously high bar Rock set for himself in 1996. The ninety minutes on this disc are surely funnier and more provocative than many other shows of similar ilk, but be warned: if you go in expecting to laugh your liver out, you might leave just hot and bothered.
For one thing, Rock is heavy on the social commentary. My personal opinion of his politics aside, he certainly touches on some weighty topics -- terrorism, drugs, racism -- but I found that his jokes didn't offset the heftiness of their targets. Rock, in my opinion, has always excelled at taking serious issues, talking about them in intelligent and funny ways, and still providing the viewer with a good time. This go-round, the issues are as serious as ever, but what the jokes lack in hilarity they make up for in cynicism. Look, the bottom line is I just wasn't laughing a lot.
Which is not to say that he was never funny. This is Chris Rock, and he's on for 90 minutes, so there will be some amusing spots. For example:
Fatherhood -- "My responsibility is to keep her off the pole. If your daughter is a stripper, you f***ed up!"
Wealthy vs. Rich -- "Shaq is rich. The guy who signs his checks is wealthy."
Bill Gates vs. Oprah -- "If Bill Gates woke up with Oprah's money, he'd throw himself out of the window!"
The War on Terror -- "When did Bin Laden pass the hate baton to Saddam? 'They hate me, they hate me, they hate me -- they hate you, they hate you, they hate you!'"
Typical of all of Rock's DVD presentations, we get a full-screen, Dolby stereo treatment. Ho hum, but who really cares? Also included on the disc is Rock's first HBO special, Big-Ass Jokes, approximately half an hour of a much younger, worse-dressed Rock bringing down the house. This is a handy little addition, and will fulfill the Chris Rock completist urge; it also happens to be funnier than the feature it supplements.
His points are well-taken -- but I wanted to laugh like the old days, dammit!
Guilty of a surprisingly un-Chris Rock-like, relatively laugh-free fest. The official statement from the court: bummer.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 2004 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Program, Big-ass Jokes