So here's the problem with most genre releases that are lumped together under the banner of concert films. Simply put, if you're not into the artist, band and/or their type of music, there's usually little point in watching the movie since the majority of it will feature them and just that. Sure, a few in the past have segued into documentaries of sorts where we get to see what makes them tick (such as the fabulous "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster"), but for the most part, if you don't care for the music, you'll have the same reaction to the film.
With that in mind, there was one reason I was looking forward to "Dave Chappelle's Block Party." Perhaps to your surprise, that wasn't because of the title comedian's involvement with the film, although his presence (where he serves more as gracious host than true performer) would certainly add another layer to this offering. Instead, it was because Michael Gondry was behind the camera. Although not a household name, he's the director responsible for the brilliant "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," the mind-bending 2004 film featuring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet and the rest of a terrific cast.
While I knew this documentary-meets-concert film probably wouldn't and couldn't have all of the directorial flourishes that fueled that highly lauded picture, I figured there had to be a reason why he chose to work on it. Well, it appears it's because he's a fan of Chappelle and/or one or more of the hip-hop and R&B acts that appear on the makeshift stage that transformed a bleak but active Brooklyn street into what comes off feeling like an impromptu event.
Of course, lots of planning probably went into getting the various acts to sign on, but Gondry focuses more on Chappelle both on location trying to get everything set up as well as out in Ohio giving out passes that he rightly equates to Wonka-like (since most of the eager recipients never imagined getting invited to anything like this). Switching between those two facets as well as the actual concert itself, Gondry covers the requisite bases. Yet, while everything looks and sounds good, this could have just as easily been John Q. Director behind the camera as far as the average viewer is concerned.
Even so, fans of Mos Def, Kanye West, Dead Prez, Erykah Badu, the Roots and others will probably be in hog (or at least hip-hop) heaven, especially when the former members of the Fugees are reunited for the first time in quite some while. If those performers and bands don't ring a bell or you're simply not a big fan of them, you still might enjoy some of the numbers, but this is really a film for their aficionados.
Some of the performers -- whether through music or backstage talk -- also touch upon various societal issues, such as the all-black members of the Central State University marching band responding to a question of what they'd do if they were President of the U.S. Thankfully, the message never gets too preachy, but that's pretty much a given considering Chappelle's presence.
Having hit the big time thanks to his Comedy Central show, he seems genuine in his desire to give everyone a good time, and his interactions with common folk are the film's more winning moments. Unfortunately, Gondry doesn't always carry through in showing the "Wonka" ticket recipients upon their arrival in Brooklyn or their experiences and reactions before, during and after the show (some of that is there, but not enough).
Chappelle's diehard fans might have the same reaction to the amount of his comedy in the film, although casual viewers will probably enjoy some decent laughs both before and during the concert. A particularly entertaining bit is when the comedian -- who surprisingly admits that he's only mediocre at both comedy and music yet talked his way into a fortune -- is providing filler onstage and goes into a bit about James Brown and his signature musical punches (for lack of the more technical term for the band playing one sudden note for emphasis). You have to see (and hear) it for the full effect, but it is quite funny.
Not being a big fan of the musical acts (although I enjoyed some of the numbers), I liked the film better when it was off rather than on the stage, but viewer reaction will obviously vary quite a bit regarding that. More of a concert film than a true documentary (since there isn't much exploration of the comedian, performers or their music), the release is fairly entertaining, but will obviously play better to diehard fans of the comedian and/or the acts he managed to nab for his free concert.