Total Recall: Chris Rock's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Death at a Funeral star.
Most of his best-known routines are unprintable in polite company, but that hasn't prevented Chris Rock from building a career as one of the best-known and most versatile comics of his generation -- from television (including a stint on Saturday Night Live and an Emmy-winning HBO talk show) to his recording career (including 1997's Grammy-winning Roll with the New) to his steadily expanding list of film credits, Rock has been making people laugh -- and making them think -- for nearly 20 years. To celebrate the release of his latest big-screen comedy, Neil LaBute's Death at a Funeral remake, we decided to take a look through Rock's filmography and find its ten freshest entries. It's time for Total Recall!
10. Bee Movie
It had the benefit of almost 10 years' worth of Seinfeld nostalgia, a huge promotional campaign, and a series of teasers featuring its stars dressed up in funny giant bug costumes. It had a voice cast that included Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, and Chris Rock as a mosquito named Mooseblood. So why did Bee Movie end up looking like a disappointment despite its $366 million gross? In all likelihood, Seinfeld would have had a hard time meeting expectations with anything he did after so much time away, but Bee's hyperactive plot and punny, kid-targeted gags struck a sour note with fans of his stand-up act and long-running sitcom. Still, some critics were able to appreciate the film for what it was -- like Christian Toto of the Washington Times, who wrote, "Bee Movie is a light, moderately entertaining romp. Not that there's anything wrong with that."
Rock added "action hero" to his resume with his appearance in the fourth Lethal Weapon, which gave him the role of Lee Butters, the police detective who secretly marries the daughter of Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). Though Lethal Weapon 4's script didn't give Rock many opportunities to exercise his famously acerbic wit, it let him do something almost as funny -- namely, spend two hours quaking in fear of Glover -- and put him on the screen for one of the year's biggest box office successes. By this point in the series, many critics felt Lethal Weapon was empty, but for some, the addition of Rock and Jet Li to the time-tested chemistry of Glover and Mel Gibson was enough to keep things entertaining. None were more surprised than Janet Maslin of the New York Times, who wrote, "Pardon me for having groaned in anticipation of what, in the full perspective-warping heat of the summer movie season, turns out to be one of the nicer blow-'em-ups around."
The Farrelly brothers, Bill Murray, and Chris Rock, together in one picture -- it's gotta be great, right? Well, yes and no. Osmosis Jones was the Farrellys' bid for family-friendly fare, starring Murray as a slovenly widower whose disgusting habits leave his body vulnerable to the dastardly virus Thrax (voiced by Laurence Fishburne), and trigger the heroic efforts of the titular white blood cell (voiced by Chris Rock). It was a nifty premise, one made all the more intriguing thanks to its split between live action scenes (starring Murray, Molly Shannon, and Chris Elliott) and animated sequences (featuring the voices of Rock, Fishburne, and William Shatner); unfortunately, audiences delivered it the same disastrous fate suffered by Warner Bros. Animation's previous release, The Iron Giant. Fortunately, critics were a bit kinder -- though some were turned off by the Farrellys' ever-scatalogical humor, a number of writers praised Osmosis' borderline educational storyline, as well as its likable cast. "I'd advise attendees of this film to go on an empty stomach," wrote John R. McEwen of Film Quips Online, "but if you're willing to endure the Farrellys' warped sense of humor and Murray's scratching, squirting, gas-passing antics, Osmosis Jones offers some lighthearted fun."
Rock returned to animation with this DreamWorks Animation hit, which found him voicing Marty, a zebra whose quest to escape the Central Park Zoo leads to him being forcibly deported to Kenya with his friends Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), along with a trio of penguins. Of course, the trip doesn't go as planned -- the movie's called Madagascar, after all -- but the whole thing worked like a charm for DreamWorks, where the $532 million gross guaranteed sequels and spinoffs galore. (The third Madagascar is scheduled to arrive in theaters in 2012.) Critics were generally indifferent to its charms, but for some, the movie's journey was one worth taking; as Tasha Robinson of the AV Club observed, "The tenor can be shrill, but there's no time to get bored. And on top of that, most of the gags actually work."
It's been described as a sort of hip-hop take on This Is Spinal Tap, but CB4 probably has more in common with absurdist pop music comedies like Airheads and Wayne's World. Rock, who co-wrote the script, stars as a wannabe rapper named Albert, whose desperate quest for rap stardom leads him to co-opt the identity of a recently imprisoned local gangster (Charlie Murphy) and use his street cred to score hardcore hits like the immortal "Straight Outta Locash." Given the satire-ready subject matter, Rock's heightened visibility during his early '90s Saturday Night Live run, and a cast that included Phil Hartman and Chris Elliott, CB4 should have been the start of something big for Rock; instead, its middling box office and lukewarm reviews kicked off a string of bit roles in films like Sgt. Bilko. It's survived as something of a cult classic on home video, though, bearing out the predictions of critics like the Washington Post's Desson Thomson, who wrote, "If your mood is loose and profane, if you speak hip-hop (or you just like hearing it) and if you think Rock is funny (he is), you'll be glad you checked this out."