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Wednesday, March 1, 2006 10:02 pm

Party with heart

Dave Chappelle pulls together a life-affirming event — and reunites the Fugees!

During a recent appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, comedian Dave Chappelle admitted that he wasn’t having much fun with his hit Comedy Central program. But before the blues got him down, Chappelle shot a film that demonstrates exactly why he’s one of comedy’s most gifted entertainers. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party depicts the comedian at the height of his game, playing ringmaster to a variety of musical groups that he brings together for an outdoor party, the purpose of which is to generate a positive vibe among the performers, their audience and the surrounding community.   Put together seemingly on the fly, Block Party cuts back and forth between moments from this grassroots gathering and Chappelle’s efforts to pull it all together. The comedian is seen handing out “golden tickets” to various people in and around Dayton, Ohio, near where he and his family live. He approaches people of various races and social lifestyles, inviting parole officers, senior citizens, cutters in barbershops, and even the middle-aged white woman who works at the convenience store he frequents. The ticket not only ensures that they’ll get into the party, which is being held on a side street in Brooklyn, but provides its bearer with transportation and lodging as well. The party itself, featuring a roster of activist rappers and musical groups, doesn’t so much call attention to the injustices of the world as it proves a testament to faith in God and oneself and the power of hard work and positive thinking. Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, and Jill Scott all contribute anthems, and the various groups, including Dead Prez and the Fugees (who reunited just for this film), perform to such heights that you shouldn’t be surprised if you break out in goosebumps.   Though the music is compelling, the film does begin to wane a bit as it devotes more time to these artists. The sheer force of Chappelle’s personality is such that these proceedings can’t help but drag when the comedian is offscreen too long. A smile instantly appears on your face whenever he pops up as you eagerly wait to hear what will come out of his mouth next. Whether acting like a pimp in a clothing store while modeling a garish outfit, doing a call-and-response routine of one-liners with Mos Def on the drums, or simply rattling off impromptu jokes with the band, Chappelle has the crowd in the palm of his hand. In the end, Block Party is a life-affirming event that proves that harmony among all people is possible.
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