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Dave Chappelle's Block Party ***

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Chappelle marches to the beat of his own drums.

DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY
(Courtesy of SFStation.com)

Starring: Dave Chappelle, Erykah adu, Bilal, Lil' Cease, Common, Cody Chestnutt, Mos Def, Lauryn Hill. Rated R.

It’s hard not to appreciate Dave Chappelle on some level, and that partly explains the massive success of his short-lived Comedy Central series, Chappelle’s Show. Whether he’s delivering a gleefully over-the-top impression of Rick “Super Freak” James, riffing on racial relations or slipping in a few digs at the White House, Chappelle can’t help but crack a big smile, and his joy is infectious. Sure, there’s anger buried somewhere below that serene exterior, but Chappelle is one of those comedians who always seems amused by his own celebrity. He loves his job, and he happens to be damn good at it.

He’s just not on TV anymore. In the wake of his much-publicized split with Comedy Central, Chappelle was the subject of many unflattering rumors, the nastiest of which had him holed up at a South African sanitarium. Now he’s back with Block Party, a concert documentary filmed before that oh-so-public divorce. If the sudden demise of his sketch-comedy series represented the worst of times, then Block Party surely depicts the best of them.

Fittingly, it is a rollicking celebration of Chappelle’s comedy and the musicians he loves best, from a reunited Fugees to the Roots, Mos Def and Kanye West. Also on hand are thousands of fans invited to the all-star bash by the comedian himself. Block Party begins with Chappelle roaming the streets of Dayton, his one-time home, handing out golden show tickets to astonished Ohioans like a real-life Willy Wonka. A local barber? Check. The Central State University marching band? Check. Chappelle seems to take real pleasure from his interactions with adoring fans and affable strangers, and he’s more than happy to invite them all to his Brooklyn shindig.

Once there, the real fireworks start. Unlike crass commercial enterprises like the latter-day Woodstocks, this free party is a genuine love-fest, with Chappelle serving more as a master of ceremonies than the star of the show. Even so, he makes the most of his screen time, whether he’s pressing the flesh backstage with Mos Def and Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots or poking good-natured fun at the indecipherable James Brown for the crowd.

And the music? It’s hot, bolstered by the spirit of casual spontaneity that permeates the proceedings. Kanye West tears through his portion of the show with the fiery ferocity of a man possessed, while Erykah Badu’s set is more of a slow burn, showing off her seductive pipes and considerable sex appeal. In all, it’s a brilliant spectacle, deftly promoted by Chappelle and colorfully captured by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry.

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