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Dave Chappelle's Block Party

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 03/03/06 01:06:04

"If you see one Mos Def movie this weekend…"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

If you’re waiting for Dave Chappelle’s triumphant return to television sketch comedy, you might want to consider tossing snowballs in Hell for a while. If, however, you are looking for 100 minutes of thrilling music, solid filmmaking and Chappelle’s genial presence, “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” consistently lays down a satisfying groove.

After a few minutes of catching the film, you’ll probably wish you were among the revelers in Brooklyn during September of 2004. The great thing is that French music video virtuoso Michel Gondry (he also directed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) not only captures the energy of the show but also treats viewers to some backstage footage that’s as engaging as the final concert.

In addition to assembling, a lineup of musicians as diverse as The Roots, rapper Kanye West, Mos Def, Ded Prez, Erykah Badu and a reunited Fugees, Chapelle who was both the host and the impresario of the free concert. He took residents from the small Ohio town where he lives along for the ride and even convinced the Central State University (Ohio) marching band to accompany the caravan at the last minute. The band even accompanied West for a tune during the show. Needless to say, it wasn’t an ordinary concert.

As a hardened movie geek, I have to confess that I’ve missed a lot of these artists’ work and am happy to get a rousing introduction. Needless to say, I’m eager to check out the soundtrack when it becomes available.

But many of the most charming moments come from Chappelle and Gondry interview ordinary people from Ohio and Brooklyn.

There’s an older white woman who winds up enjoying herself during the show and an eccentric Brooklyn couple who relate to Chappelle how they met nearly half a century before. Some of these folks are often funnier than the comic himself, but Chappelle and Gondry deserve credit for sharing the spotlight.

Chappelle’s seemingly on the fly narration is inconsistent, but some of his observations are intriguing. The Brooklyn Salvation Army generously donates seats for the event, and he wanders through their store amazed at the perfectly good items that people have thrown away.

At times, Gondry give the impression that the event spontaneously came together. But he later cuts back and forth between rehearsal and performance footage, letting viewers know it wasn’t completely left to chance. The shifts between are surprisingly effortless and give “Block Party” a sense of pacing and narrative that are often missing from concert flicks.

Chappelle occasionally flirts with heavier themes (the son of an activist recalls how his father was killed), and it might have been good to give them the time and the gravity they deserve. Also some acts deserve more attention than others. Listening to the Fugees recalling their early lives (Wyclef Jean's bandmates didn't initially know he was Haitian instead of Jamaican) is more interesting than Jill Scott comparing her stage presence to Badu’s.

We can only hope the DVD has plenty of the stuff we don’t get to see here. Still, what’s on the screen is a lot of fun. By not revealing his entire stash here and by cutting his TV series short, Chappelle is simply following the first and most important rule of show business. Always leave them wanting more.

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