Part concert movie, part epic stargazing-humping session, "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" reveals the enigmatic funnyman doing what he does best: Cracking wise and hip-hopping out.
Say what you want about him, but this is one stand-up who doesn't take his music sitting down.
Filmed on a drizzly fall evening in 2004 — before his still-mysterious Comedy Central bailout — the movie is less about Chappelle the comedian than Chappelle the hip-hop impresario. Conceived jointly with director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), it features the “Half Baked" star and a welter of rap music mega-talents entertaining a delighted mass of fans during a free street concert in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Kanye West is there, rhyming up a storm with actor-rapper Mos Def. Later, West is joined onstage by rap-funk stylist Common for a blistering rendition of "Jesus Walks," accompanied by a full college marching band that Chappelle bused in from the Midwest.
The roster of invitees reads like a who's who of thinking-man's hip-hop: Erykah Badu, Dead Prez, Cody Chestnutt and Big Daddy Kane, to name a few. Momentously, Chappelle coaxes Lauryn Hill onstage for a couple of Fugees songs with Wyclef Jean. There's a mighty good vibe afoot, and Gondry skillfully snatches it out of the air.
Naturally, Chappelle — who funded the movie — makes for solidly entertaining sideshow. Trading barbs with a Mr. T look-alike, hamming it up during rehearsal, riffing hilariously on James Brown's "Hit me!" outbursts, Chappelle proves convivial and quick-witted. In the days leading up to the concert, the comedian makes a Wonkaesque imp of himself, handing out tickets and charming grandma types in the Ohio hamlet where he grew up.
Through it all, we get a glimpse of the gnawing uncertainty that may have led to Chappelle's withdrawal from public life. Musing on the relationship between music and comedy, he jokes: "I'm mediocre at both, but I managed to talk my way into a fortune." One suspects that Chappelle would be content to blow that fortune on infectious musical love-ins precisely like this.