Director: Chris Rock
Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, J.B. Smoove, Romany Malco, Cedric The Entertainer
Written by: Chris Rock
Running Time: 102 mins
Release date: 8th May 2015
Chris Rock isn’t the star in the UK that he is in the States. Apart from appearing in Adam Sandler’s dire Grown Up films and providing the voice of Marty in the Madagascar animations, not many people will know of the street smart talking comic, who started life in Saturday Night Live. Now comes Top Five, a semi-autobiographical comedy drama that Rock wrote, directed and stars. Maybe this will solidly put him on the map over here, because this isn’t all bad.
Andre Allen is a stand-up comic who made the jump into movies and made the hugely popular Hammy films, about a bear whose a cop. After battling with alcoholism, he decides he wants to be taken seriously. So with the release of Uprage, a drama about a Haitian uprise, imminent, Allen has to spend the day in New York, talking at press junkets, while being interviewed as he travels by Chelsea Brown. Meanwhile his future wife, a reality TV star who wants the wedding to be filmed, is pushing for him to be more pro-active in the event, even though he hates the idea. With this much pressure, the demon could be hiding behind the next corner.
Rock’s film covers most bases, from social commentary to the emptiness of fame, from the insecurities that go with being in the public eye to the self-destruction of drinking. Most is played out with a little slice of wit, while other moments are handled deadly seriously. What Rock does manage to do quite well is balance these themes and the tonal changes throughout.
Coming across like Woody Allen’s 1980 Stardust Memories, in which a comedic film maker decides to make serious films, this has a similar approach, with Rock refusing to go back to his roots in stand-up. It does, however, have plenty to say about reality TV, as his fiancée has cameras following her ever last mood. In a speech when Allen refuses to do something for her cameras, she tell him that she is talentless and that this is all she has.
Among the more serious moments, there are some spot-on comic sequences, coming at you like a Chris Rock stand-up. A trip to Houston sees Allen sharing some “party girls” with an over-excitable promotion manager is very funny, as is a small group of celebrities invited to Allen’s stag night, giving him advice on pre-nuptials.
Where the film really finds it’s feet is during the extended conversations between Allen and reporter Chelsea Brown. These scenes, improvised or scripted, come across completely naturalistic and have real heart. It helps that Brown, played brilliantly by Rosario Dawson and Rock have real chemistry, bouncing off each other with their banter. Here lies some of the real truths of the film as well as the humour.
Top Five does have its flaws, none more so than the obvious contrivances within the plot twists but if you can see through those, it’s a far better piece of work than you would even dream of. Unlike Richard Pryor’s semi-autobiographical movie, Jo-Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, this doesn’t come across as self-indulgent. Instead this amusing drama comes across as Rock spreading out his weaknesses for all to see and ultimately, it makes him seem a stronger man. As for the title, it’s all to do with favourite rap artists. Why wasn’t Wham with Wham Rap not included?