Total Recall: Chris Rock's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Death at a Funeral star.
After Madagascar raked in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office (and proved to be an eminently merchandisable cash magnet for DreamWorks), a follow-up was inevitable -- but unlike most sequels, 2008's Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa was a bigger box office hit and enjoyed significantly better reviews than its predecessor. Here, Rock and his co-stars send their voices to Africa, where their animal characters meet up with a pride of lions (including Alec Baldwin and Sherri Shepherd) and one suave hippo (voiced by the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, who contributed heavily to the soundtrack). Even as it hurled pop culture gags at the screen, sold countless tie-ins, and set up yet another sequel, Escape 2 Africa added new layers of depth and humor to the original, much to the surprise of critics like the Toronto Star's Peter Howell, who wrote, "It has everything Madagascar had three years ago, but also two things the original was woefully lacking: a good yarn and genuine yuks."
He's in a bit of a fallow period now, but it wasn't so long ago that Kevin Smith had an imagination so fearless it could dream up the kind of movie that would inspire public condemnation -- not to mention death threats -- from people who hadn't even seen it. We're talking about Dogma, the 1999 comedy in which Smith pits a pair of exiled angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) against a ragtag group that includes a Greek muse turned stripper (Salma Hayek), the heretofore unknown 13th apostle (Chris Rock), Jesus Christ's last surviving relative (Linda Fiorentino), and a pair of unwitting prophets (Jason Mewes and Smith as, of course, Jay and Silent Bob) -- all while God (played by Alanis Morissette, natch) lies trapped in the comatose body of a homeless man (s)He was using to play skee ball. Not for the easily offended, obviously -- but despite what Dogma's detractors may have thought, Smith didn't go for cheap gags, instead using humor to leaven a thoughtful look at what we believe, and why. "Make no mistake," cautioned TV Guide's Maitland McDonagh, "Kevin Smith's talky, farcical comedy of cosmic errors is clever. But it's clever in a deeply juvenile way."
Rock earned his first real screen time in Mario Van Peebles' 1991 drug drama, playing the ill-fated police informant Benny "Pookie" Robinson, who tries to help NYPD detectives Scotty Appleton (Ice-T) and Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson) infiltrate the crack-spewing CMB gang, led by the vicious Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes). Pookie is unsuccessful in his efforts, to put it mildly, but New Jack City was a huge hit, racking up almost $50 million in domestic grosses, earning widespread critical praise, and spun off a soundtrack that became one of the top-selling albums of the year, thanks in part to a huge hit single from the other CMB (aka Color Me Badd). Roger Ebert was one of the many critics who enjoyed Peebles' City, writing, "The movie was advertised (no doubt wisely) as a slam-bang action adventure, but in fact it's a serious, smart film with an impact that lingers after the lights go up."
(Warning: NSFW -- language.)
2. Nurse Betty
Chris Rock has taken his fair share of lumps for appearing in middle-of-the-road comedies like I Think I Love My Wife and Head of State, but occasionally, he reminds us that he has a sharper eye for scripts than you might suspect. Case in point: Nurse Betty, a wickedly dark, Neil LaBute-directed comedy about a slightly addled waitress (Renee Zellweger) who comes unglued from reality when she witnesses her husband (Aaron Eckhart) being murdered by a pair of hit men (Rock and Morgan Freeman). A strange blend of The Wizard of Oz-style fantasy and bloody, Tarantino-esque violence, Nurse Betty baffled audiences, but the black humor of John C. Richards' script, coupled with uniformly strong performances from a cast that also included Greg Kinnear and Allison Janney, made it one of the year's better-reviewed films. Wrote Jules Brenner of Cinema Signals, "Carried by Renee Zellweger whose particular forte is unquestioned honesty, directness and guilelessness, supported by no less than Morgan Freeman in a semi-comedic turn and Chris Rock in a semi-serious turn, it's a rare entertainment."
1. Good Hair
Shaken after his five-year-old daughter asked him why she didn't have "good hair," Rock spearheaded this thoughtful, yet lighthearted, look at the complicated emotions -- and the huge industry -- surrounding the issue of hair in the black community. Following weaves to their (ahem) roots in India, examining just what goes into chemical hair relaxers, and interviewing a host of celebrities (including Ice-T, Paul Mooney, Maya Angelou, and Al Sharpton), Rock was able to take the gifts for social commentary and comedy that made him so appealing on record and HBO, and bring them -- arguably for the first time -- to the big screen. Though a few critics felt Good Hair didn't take its subject seriously enough, the vast majority appreciated the even-handed way Rock chose to address a complex, largely taboo subject. "If you arrive at Good Hair never having thought about the complexities of black hair, bring a notebook," warned Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe. "If you are a black woman wearing a weave, bring a tissue."
In case you were wondering, here are Rock's top ten movies according RT users' scores:
1. Good Hair -- 84%
2. Dogma -- 83%
3. New Jack City -- 78%
4. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa -- 76%
5. Nurse Betty -- 69%
6. Lethal Weapon 4 -- 68%
7. Madagascar -- 66%
8. CB4 -- 62%
9. Bee Movie -- 58%
10. The Longest Yard -- 54%
Finally, here's Rock with David Letterman talking about Oprah: