As a stand-up comedian,
when he is on – which is often – Chris Rock is a force of nature. A
shooting star across the audience. A walking and talking exclamation point.
This fact has made his
complete inability to translate his odd brilliance to the screen even more
perplexing. At this point, Rock has made well over 30 films – six of his
own and the rest as a gun for hire – and not one has come close to capturing
the staggeringly potent mix of intelligence and wit that he regularly
displays on stage.
That is, until now.
is not a perfect film, but it is head and shoulders above
anything he has done previously. And it works because he finally takes
himself on as his subject.
In fact, Top Five
pretty much succeeds at what his good friend Adam Sandler attempted and
failed at a few years ago with Funny People. It takes a complex look
at the existential toll taken on a talented comedian who has sold out for
years for an easy paycheck in Hollywood. (Sandler also shows up here for a
good-natured cameo as himself, together with Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and Whoopi
Goldberg at a strip club for Rock's character's bachelor party. It is the
most effortlessly funny that Sandler has been for years – perhaps ever.)
Top Five is Rock's Woody Allen film, and they are not
completely wrong (though technically Rock's earlier I Think I Love My
Wife was also a stab at this type of film, it just didn't succeed). It
is a New York-based look at a comedian who despises his work (and is
starting to despise himself) trying to come to terms with his life and his
career by revisiting the place where it started. Some critics have
Specifically like Woody
in Stardust Memories, Rock's character of Andre Allen is known for
dumb-but-funny films (specifically a series of cop-in-a-bear-suit films
called Hammy the Bear), but he sees himself as more of an artist. He
wants to make serious films, but everyone is waiting for the next Hammy
film. (He is constantly recognized on the street as Hammy, despite the
fact that he is covered in a bear suit during the films).
Part of the problem is
that his serious films are not particularly better than the stupid ones.
Top Five shows Allen in New York doing press for a horrible looking film
called Uprize!, a pretentious historical piece about Haitian slave
revolutionaries. He is four years sober and starting to doubt his talent.
The only heat his career is generating at all is appearing on the reality
series about his bridezilla fiancée (Gabrielle Union) preparing for their
It is at this crossroads
that Allen is pressured into an interview with Chelsea (Rosario Dawson), a
sweet and hip Hispanic writer for Rolling Stone who wants to find out
who the man really is. He agrees to allow her to tag along with him all day
as he juggles the film junket, the wedding and the old neighborhood.
Chelsea has her own
problems going down, including identity issues (she has at least three "pen
names" that we hear about), problems with her career, her family and
romance. As the two travel up and down Manhattan, starting off guarded but
becoming more and more truthful as the day goes on, they recognize in each
other another lost artistic soul.
So what is it that makes
Top Five (the awkward title comes from a running argument in which
Andre's family and friends debate the five best hip hop artists of all time)
succeed when so many other Rock films have failed? Previously in his
career, Rock appeared to be making a specialty of doing bad remakes of films
that had already been done much better – such as Down to Earth (a
remake of Heaven Can Wait), The Longest Yard, Death at a Funeral
and I Think I Love My Wife (a remake of a French comedy called
Chloe in the Afternoon).
Here it is obvious that
he uses his own life as inspiration. I'm not saying that Top Five
is necessarily completely biographical, but it certainly takes a hard look
at a world with which Rock is intimately familiar. In doing so, it brings
out that elusive star power that Rock so regularly taps when performing
live. Finally, Chris Rock's movie career is living up to its infinite
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January