Director: Chris Rock
Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, J.B. Smoove, Sherri Shepherd, Leslie Jones, Michael Che, Jay Pharoah, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg
Rated: R (strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use)
A comedian tries to make it as a serious actor when his reality-TV star fiancée talks him into broadcasting their wedding on her TV show.
By Cole Schneider
Chris Rock’s new film begs comparisons to classics like “Sullivan’s Travels”, “Stardust Memories”, and “Before Sunrise”. “Top Five” absolutely fits within the conversation of those films in terms of quality, but in throwing out pithy comparisons, it must be noted that this is a distinctly Chris Rock-ian film. That’s a term we may as well invent now as Rock has put himself on the map as a premier voice in American comedy.
“Top Five” juggles many different narrative tropes–it’s a walk and talk romance, a Hollywood satire, a Cinderella story, a sobriety story, and a subversive political commentary–and there are probably too many, but Rock manages to treat each with respect, pulling them off even if it’s messy and loaded with inserts and asides. As lead performer Rock plays a semi-autobiographical lead. I’ve convinced myself that his character’s name, Andre Allen, is an intentional combination of his brother Andre (another brother, Charles, lost his life to alcoholism) and Oscar winner Woody Allen who was clearly his biggest influence as a writer-director-actor-comedian. He is both comfortable and commanding in the role, but Rosario Dawson matches his wit time and time again as a vulnerable yet strong female co-lead. Their chemistry is remarkable because both actors embody real people.
Rare is a film this dramatically authentic also this funny. Maybe the first thing that should be addressed is that this movie is riotously funny. I mean it’s really, really, hilarious. “Top Five” is a phenomenal fulfillment of Rock’s personal and professional inspirations. Its honest emotional mess is only matched by its comic vibrance.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
By Matt Greene
Dave Chappelle once said, when referencing the public “breakdowns” of himself, Mariah Carey and Martin Lawrence, that these people aren’t crazy but are actually very intelligent people at their breaking point, and that the system they’re in is what’s messed up. Rock is exploring this in his new film, a very personal look at the strange relationship between media and entertainment. It’s a filmic venting of how our fame-starved culture is destroying lives, one character going so far as to say, “If it’s not on camera, it doesn’t exist”, all the while remaining somewhat neutral on who is to blame. Unfortunately, these strong ideas are surrounded by unfocused filmmaking. So even though it’s smart, and funny to boot, the end product is kinda cluttered.
Rock’s longtime Woody Allen fandom is fully present here, with the consistently funny jokes brimming from the brainy dialogue and the heartfelt (if overdone) editing. To accompany him in his study of one comedian’s reluctant “rise” and much-needed “fall”, is Dawson, formidable and charming as Rock’s main verbal-sparring partner. Cameos abound, Rock employing nearly every “hey-that-guy” comedic actor working now. Even the much derided Sandler provides some good guffaws.
With so much positive in the philosophy, acting, screenwriting, and humor, it’s a bummer Top Five isn’t in my personal top five, or even top 20, of the year… But the jazz/hip-hop fusion score is a wreck, the non-sequitur break-aways are distracting and unfunny, and the thematic focus is just a bit off. There are, luckily, enough consistent laughs that stem from a heartfelt, melancholic, and unique place to be worth a watch.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars