We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Chris Rock moved briefly to Washington in an effort to soak up a little local atmosphere before making his directorial debut, in which he plays a young D.C. politician plucked from obscurity to make a run for president. He seems to have hung out here a little too long: The lily-livered political scene that he tries to satirize in Head of State has seeped into and watered down his own comedy. In his stand-up work and HBO show—and even in interviews he’s done promoting this movie—Rock has a style that makes pointed political critiques all the more devastating because they come from a genial, undersized Everyman. But Head of State (tag line: “The only thing white is the house”), scripted by Rock and Down to Earth screenwriter Ali LeRoi, has such a surprising lack of ambition that only during its high points could it be said to aim for the lowest common denominator. Rock plays Mays Gilliam, a D.C. “alderman” who represents the fictional Ward 9, “a neighborhood that’s so bad you can get shot while you’re getting shot.” Just after getting dumped by his girlfriend (an increasingly hysterical Robin Givens), he’s tapped to run for president against sitting Veep Brian Lewis (the completely miscast Nick Searcy, who looks more like a truck driver than a slick career pol). The idea is that Gilliam will be a sacrificial lamb who, while getting trounced by Lewis, will forever endear his party to minority voters. But Gilliam, of course, fires his handlers, takes charge of his own campaign, adopts a weird sweat-suit-and-Kangol-clad persona, and lifts his poll numbers by talking directly to the people—in what turns out to be vague and uninspiring rhetoric. He also picks his brother, a bail bondsman played by Bernie Mac, as his running mate, giving the twosome opportunities for some slapstick moments—they have a family tradition of sucker-punching each other—that turn out to be a lot funnier than most of the film’s jokes. Even Rock’s occasional attempts at directorial panache—such as having Nate Dogg play a hiphop version of Jonathan Richman’s Greek-chorus role in There’s Something About Mary—wind up seeming bland. As far as political comedy goes, there’s really not much here that you haven’t already seen in Bulworth—or even, sad to say, in Dave. —Christopher Hawthorne