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Fortunately, Lance has a day job (he's a bike messenger), and a caring manager who is nevertheless unable to help. One day when Lance is hit by a bus, and some angels screw up in heaven - they steal his soul about forty-four years before it's his time to go. To make it up to him, they offer him a new body - of a rich, influential white man.
Lance uses his newfound fortune to impress a girl, save a hospital for poor people, and buy the comedy club that kicked him out in his previous incarnation. Meanwhile, he develops his comedic talent during some extremely funny scenes (his board meeting discussion of doctors and hospitals is particularly hilarious). As he becomes a finer comedian, he once again takes up the struggle to succeed as a stand-up comic. Apparently, money wasn't his only motivation - he loved being on stage - even when he was booed off!
The premise behind Down to Earth isn't the most original - it is a remake - and it borrows from many other successful films. (Heaven Can Wait is one.) The plot is typical: Average Joe meets with failure and can't get his dream girl. Finally through an uncanny event which is always intended to be funny (sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't) he becomes successful and gets his girl. Everything runs smoothly for a while - until things change. He has to discover that he was a valuable human being (or at least useful in some capacity) before he was successful, and his girlfriend decides she loves him anyway. Now everyone is happy again.
You can put a new twist on this - struggling African-American comic in a rich white guy's body - but the formula is the same. Since so many comedies follow this plot formula, the difference is in the cast, the characters, and the quality of the writing.
I'm happy to report that the goofy characters and great comic lines of Down to Earth are laughable. Although the movie seems like an excuse for Chris Rock to do standup comedy (surely it would have been cheaper and easier for him to do another HBO special), it ends up being an entertaining comedy. Down to Earth doesn't score any points for brilliant, new ideas, but is a good laugh.