There are times when a remake feels more like a ripoff. The Chris Rock comedy Down to Earth is a perfect example. Based on... no, xeroxed from 1978's Heaven Can Wait, it's a string of dull fish-out-of-water scenes held together by someone else's script.
The "someone else", in this case, are Elaine May and Warren Beatty, screenwriters of that earlier romantic comedy, which itself was a remake of 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan. But Beatty and May crafted a fresh story with a modern update and some sex appeal, while paying homage to the old version. Down to Earth is just a much weaker version of the same movie.
Rock plays Lance Barton, a bike messenger dying for his big break as a stand-up comic -- literally dying, when he's hit by a truck and whisked up to heaven prematurely. Needing to be back on earth for an audition at the Apollo... wait, why waste time with plot description? Look, it's Heaven Can Wait.
Every single character is duplicated from Heaven Can Wait, as are most situations, all with very little new creativity. The one aspect with a chance of setting the film apart -- racial differences, as Lance takes over the body of a rich, white guy -- shows up only in lame, surface laughs. Example: Lance, now wealthy, has the biggest TV screen in the world, but can't get BET.
The credits attribute the script to a team of four screenwriters (including Rock), but they must've been jokewriters, because they really had little to do with creating a story. In fact, the movie ends exactly as its predecessor does, almost down to the same dialogue (Beatty & May retain screen credits, by the way). The new guys are simply trying to put one over on a younger audience not familiar with Heaven.
The film is even technically unsound. Chris and Paul Weitz (producers of American Pie) direct like a pair of cadavers; the pace is stiff, the editing's choppy, and the actors look posed and uncomfortable. Rock does not yet have the skills to play a romantic lead, and his choice to do this one almost negates his ferocious performance in Nurse Betty.
In fact, Rock is at his best in the film when doing his thing: performing stand-up comedy or slinging a monologue. Hell, if that's what you want, turn on his HBO show or rent Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker. We know the man can bring smarts and laughs. Just not here.
Smaller and less black.