- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

Before third-season meltdown of “Chappelle’s Show” and before the bizarro interview with Oprah Winfrey, Dave Chappelle was just a savvy standup who struck it rich mining racial humor where few dared to tread.

“Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” freezes the District native in cultural amber — the comic celebrating his escalating fame with fans and some of hip-hop music’s biggest stars.

It’s an innocent and fleeting moment, for fame not only changes everything but does so at breakneck speed.

“Block Party” is as loosey goosey as the long-limbed host, a casually constructed affair that’s part documentary, part hip-hop concert. The star and emcee keeps the mood purposely flip, although undercurrents of black pride and racial militancy bubble between the good vibrations.

It’s also an undeniable ego trip, as Mr. Chappelle inserts himself into not just the lives of his musical heroes, but those of his neighbors and passersby.

The “Block Party” in question took place Sept. 18, 2004, in Brooklyn, and the film catches Dave the week before the event near his youthful stomping grounds in Dayton, Ohio, rousing residents to take the trip eastward with him.

He’s the prankster turned hero to his neighbors, who can’t help but smile when he drags his angular frame into their stores and shopping districts.

Around he goes, handing out “golden tickets” to attend the New York concert, a Wonka figure who traffics in difficult humor, not sticky treats.

Still, he radiates a childlike glee, like someone who can’t believe he struck it rich for cracking other people up in ways that seem second nature to him.

“This is the concert I always wanted to see,” Mr. Chappelle says as the concert draws closer.

The lineup is nothing short of stellar — including Kanye West, Erykah Badu (buried under a “Wattstax” worthy afro), Mos Def, Jill Scott, the Roots and, as the delectable cherry on top, a Fugees reunion.

The music thumping throughout this “Block Party” is vibrant, raw and routinely ribald. Mr. West is in full preening mode during his sequences, but he’s upstaged by more incendiary acts like Dead Prez, an outfit which snaps out lines like “those crackers on Capitol Hill” as part of their angry rhetoric.

More impressive is Jill Scott, a mesmerizing singer who, after bowing at Miss Badu’s feet, outguns her idol during their duet.

Director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) finds the humor not just in Mr. Chappelle but in the regular folks caught up in the party’s wake. Mr. Chappelle is a generous host, one who can tease laughter out of the stiffest of people.

The good times don’t last forever. By the time the Fugees hit the stage, we’re ready for the party to wind down.

No one knows how fame’s fallout will ultimately change Mr. Chappelle. But here, for one block of time, we see the performer he’d likely want us to have forever etched in our minds, a convivial funnyman who knows a good concert when he stages one.

***

TITLE: “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party”

RATING: R (Adult language and drug references)

CREDITS: Directed by Michel Gondry. Cinematography by Ellen Kuras.

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

WEB SITE: www.chappellesblockparty.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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