Not a Dave Chappelle fan? Stay away from his Block Party, because it might force you to switch teams. The other 99.9 percent of the world will be in Chappelle heaven: the musical dream team is sublime, with an even better MC---that is, Master of Charisma... If only the film was longer!
Dave Chappelle is a Hollywood anomaly. Not only because the comedian felt his soul was worth more than $50 million (the reported amount he walked away from when he left his Chappelle's Show), but also because he lives worlds apart from the place--literally and figuratively. In Block Party, not a moment is spent trying to go deep inside the man behind the comedy, yet that much is ascertainable. The documentary tells instead of his September 2004 mission to organize a rap/R&B block party/concert in Brooklyn, and hand out the event's ''golden tickets'' at random to people in his Dayton, Ohio community. It cuts back and forth between concert footage with his standup and the often-funny events that precipitated it. Those hoping for some sort of mea culpa will be disappointed (and should be ashamed); rather, it's Chappelle's show, seemingly the way he wanted Chappelle's Show.
While Block Party obviously contains no acting, there is a bevy of performers. The catalyst, of course, is Chappelle, and as he did so well on his show, he turns mundane observations into knee-slapping hilaritythanks in no small part to his infectious laugh that follows everything he says. He also plays the part of hip-hop goodwill ambassador, both reuniting groups and diversifying the lineup. His tastes and schoolboy enthusiasm might even be enough to endear the hip-hop naysayer. See, he prefers artists who are progressive--artists who say something punctuated by actual, live music! Acts like The Roots, Kanye West, Common, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez and a reunited Fugees--the film's climax, if you will--make theater dancing all but unavoidable and massacre stereotypes. And they're all Chappelle-approved, for an extra layer of authenticity.
Block Party perfectly pairs subject with director. Michel Gondry--best known as director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind--has a voyeur's curiosity, an artist's eye for aesthetics and an ear for left-of-center music (he is also an acclaimed music-video director). He is not interested in somehow exposing Chappelle to his legions of fans and few detractors, but he does touch on something that might surprise: Chappelle, with his genuine benevolence, seems just as content to get a smile as he does a laugh. Such is the case when he invites an entire college band to come play at his block party, and pays their way; or when he pleases the crowd by assembling the aforementioned eclectic mix of musical acts, groups which might've gone their careers without appearing together. But what Gondry captures best is this freak of nature who's so maddeningly candid in front of a camera.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.