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Rock a bit rocky in 'Head of State'

HEAD OF STATE — ** 1/2 — Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Tamala Jones, Lynn Whitfield, Dylan Baker, James Rebhorn, Nick Searcy, Robin Givens; rated PG-13 (profanity, violence, racial epithets, vulgarity, brief drugs, brief sex); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for complete listing of local theaters.

Chris Rock is a pretty funny guy. But he's not the most talented actor or director. Thankfully, "Head of State" doesn't tax him much. It just requires him to be funny.

That's something the former stand-up comedian can manage quite nicely, even when the material is as inconsistent as "Head of State." And to be fair, the film does have its share of laugh-out-loud moments — at least as many as it has derisive and mean-spirited moments.

Still, it's good thing the film has Bernie Mac, who manages to steal every scene he's in; he often rescues things when they start getting bogged down.

Rock wears a lot of hats here. He not only directed but co-wrote the script, and he stars as Mays Gilliam, a Washington, D.C., alderman who's probably too nice for his own good. As a result, he's lost his job, his car and his girlfriend (Robin Givens), all in short order.

So it's no surprise that he's depressed. Fortunately, he's given a second chance when the Democratic Party's presidential candidate is killed.

With virtually no chance of winning the race and just weeks until the election, party leaders decide to tank the campaign. So, their unlikely choice of candidates is Mays, who's virtually unknown outside of his hometown.

It's pretty easy work, too. His advisers (Lynn Whitfield and Dylan Baker) do all the thinking, and they've concocted a nondescript campaign that has him safely behind in the race.

However, things change considerably when they reach Chicago and Mays' tough-talking, bail-bondsman brother (Mac) suddenly reminds him of why he got into politics in the first place.

What happens from there is extremely predictable, to put it mildly, and the requisite romantic subplot (which wastes the talents of Tamala Jones) seems like something of an afterthought.

As director, Rock's comic timing seems to be a bit off. But he is smart enough to often let his co-star Mac carry the picture. Another smart decision was to employ hip-hop artist Jay-Z as the film's musical "narrator."

"Head of State" is rated PG-13 for frequent use of strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), violence (some fisticuffs, slapping and shootings, all of them done for laughs), use of some racial epithets and crude sexual slang terms, brief drug content (references to drug use and dealing) and brief sexual contact. Running time: 93 minutes.