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Clear your schedule for ‘Block Party’

Dave Chappelle throws the party of the year in this concert film
/ Source: The Associated Press

Its star-studded lineup poses the possibility of divalike demands, beefs breaking out and entourages elbowing each other out of the way. But “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” is as friendly and down-home as the title suggests.

There’s a wonderfully kinetic energy about the documentary, which is part concert film, part impromptu comedy show. The highlights are the thunderous performances from acts like Dead Prez, the Roots and Kanye West, but in between there’s Chappelle being Chappelle, joking with folks on the street in his neighborhood outside Cincinnati, riffing while trying on second-hand suits at the Salvation Army, spouting off into a bullhorn to anyone lucky enough to be within earshot.

“Bring yo’ self,” he beckons cheerily from the car window as he rides around organizing the party, inviting anyone and everyone to come on down to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where he’s set up a stage in front of an old church and invited some friends to sing a few songs.

It’s all very Judy-Garland-and-Mickey-Rooney, let’s-put-on-a-show in its innocent enthusiasm. And yet many of the artists share a propensity for making strong statements about politics and race relations.

“Block Party” isn’t for the uninitiated, though. If you don’t know your Talib Kweli from your Mos Def, or why it matters that the Fugees are on stage together for the first time in eight years (with Lauryn Hill singing a chill-inducing version of “Killing Me Softly”), the film isn’t about to go out of its way to tell you.

Director Michel Gondry’s approach is stripped-down and straightforward, surprising from the man who brought you the dreamlike “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and several stylish commercials and music videos, including the White Stripes’ Lego-animated “Fell in Love With a Girl.”

Working with cinematographer Ellen Kuras (who also shot Jonathan Demme’s warm, subtle “Neil Young: Heart of Gold,” a concert film that couldn’t be more different), Gondry functions more like a fly on the wall, following Chappelle during his good-natured party planning in September 2004.

“This,” he says with an almost boyish glee, “this is the concert I always wanted to see.”

This, of course, is before stress prompted him to pull out of his Comedy Central TV series “Chappelle’s Show” in mid-production last spring, back away from a $50 million deal and go off to South Africa. The film isn’t about to mention that, either, but knowledge of Chappelle’s recent spiritual journey — which culminated with an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” — makes some of the more introspective moments seem that much more meaningful.

He makes it all look easy, as if the humor simply springs organically from his very presence on earth. And yet this is a comedian who clearly takes his job very seriously, who thinks about and works at his timing, but never lets you see him sweat.

Despite his trademark biting humor, some of the film’s most memorable moments are the smallest and sweetest. Chappelle takes time to extend an invitation to the owner of the convenience store where he gets his cigarettes in the morning (she jokes that she may have to buy a thong for the occasion) as well as an elderly gentleman in glasses and a baseball cap he meets on the sidewalk. (The man politely declines, explaining: “I don’t hear well enough to catch the words.”)

Both are white, which speaks both to Chappelle’s purpose and his appeal. Like Richard Pryor before him, Chappelle isn’t afraid to joke pointedly about the differences between blacks and whites; on the contrary, he seems almost perversely drawn to the potentially uncomfortable nature of the subject. But in looking at his audience — both for his television show and for the crowd braving an intermittent rain at a Bed-Stuy intersection — you notice that it’s not just racially mixed, it’s united.

Chappelle also proves that his allure cuts naturally across various generations. He jokes that old people love him, but he also looks totally at ease chatting playfully with the kids at a day-care center near the concert site. And he’s a genuine rock star to the members of Ohio’s Central State University marching band, who get not only the thrill of traveling to New York for the concert (a place many of them had never been) but also of performing “Jesus Walks” with West himself.

“This is the best single day of my career,” Chappelle says at the film’s end, sitting down for a quiet moment after the music and laughter have stopped. And you absolutely believe him.