'Block Party' Is Chappelle at His Best

Dave Chappelle's Block Party is a mix of Dave Chappelle's sketch comedy and musical interludes. It's a movie inspired, in part, by the 1973 documentary Wattstax. The movie is a fun mix of music and Chappelle at his best.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In this country, it's been almost a year since Dave Chappelle walked out on his television show. But that does not mean he's been idle. A new feature film, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, debuts in movie theatres today. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION Film Critic Kenneth Turan is happy he got to see it.

KENNETH TURAN reporting:

Comedian Dave Chappelle put together the concert that's at the heart of Dave Chappelle's Block Party because he wanted to hear the music. For audiences, however, the major lure is likely to be Chappelle himself. Not that there's any problem with the music. Chappelle's favorite acts include rappers Kanye West and Mos Def and powerful singers like Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott and Erika Badu.

(Soundbite of song)

TURAN: But trumping all that talent in director Michel Gondry's film is the beguiling comic presence of Chappelle. He's one of those completely engaging personalities who can make you laugh at anything.

(Soundbite of Dave Chappelle's Block Party)

Mr. DAVE CHAPPELLE: Ain't nothing like a James Brown hit to set the mood. Hit me! See, hit me again! That's right, hit me! See! If you could do that in real life, you'd be powerful.

TURAN: Chappelle lives in Dayton, Ohio, and one of the amusing conceits of this film is watching him give golden tickets to luck townspeople so they can come to the concert in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Offering the biggest payoff is Chappelle's willingness to bring the entire Incredible Marching Marauders of Central State University's band to the concert.

(Soundbite of Dave Chappelle's Block Party)

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Look man, will y'all come play at my concert block party in New York?

Unidentified Man #2: The whole band?

Unidentified Man #3: I don't have a problem with it.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah, man, come on, come out there and rep Southwest Ohio, man

Unidentified Man #3: Yes we will.

Mr. CHAPPELLE: You'll do it?

Unidentified Man #3: Yes we will.

Unidentified Man #4: Is there a compensation or what?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Compensation? It comes with a sandwich.

Unidentified Man #5: Will there be snacks?

Mr. CHAPPELLE: Oh, there will be snacks. Don't we got snacks in the budget?

TURAN: Many of these young people had never been to New York City before. And seeing their unforced excitement before, during and after the concert is completely charming. Most fun of all, however, is watching Chappelle's ability to be effortlessly funny, whether he's telling jokes about race relations or charming little kids in the Bed-Stuy day care center that was concert headquarters. His personality infuses the film with infectious good feelings.

The concert itself begins with the driving beat of rap acts like Dead Prez. But it reaches its peak with Lauryn Hill, who provides the party's emotional highlight with the killer rendition of the classic, Killing Me Softly with his Song.

Getting the last word in the closing credits crawl is, of course, Chappelle himself. He singles out members of his staff and writes, Thanks for pushing me on this one, before adding the perfect kicker: Please don't push me anymore.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the L.A. Times.

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