Chris Rock’s stand-up prowess and HBO boundary ripping hilarity never successfully translated to the big screen where, to be honest, his most memorable work was his voice-overs in the Madagascar series. So here he is now, in the beginning of middle-age, trying to get his groove back by writing, directing and starring in Top Five.
Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is a recovering alcoholic and former stand-up comic who has decreed he wants to be taken seriously now after years of staring as a wise-cracking bear-suited cop in the idiotically successful Hammy the Bear series. His first serious film, the Haitian slave-revolt biopic Uprising, is hitting theaters just as his marriage to a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union) is set to air on Bravo. On the fateful day before his bachelor party, a NY Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) follows him around NYC for an in-depth interview. Along the way the pair riff on life, love, politics and pop culture while making pit stops in Allen’s old hood to meet the family and friends he left behind as he climbed the ladder out of the ghetto and into Hollywood stardom. The cast features great turns in small roles from some of my favorite comedians including Tracy Morgan and J.B. Smoove, as well as countless cameos – some of which (DMX singing “Smile”) work, and some of which (Adam Sandler doling out marriage tips) don’t. There’s also a “watch out, world, here she comes!” spin from Leslie Jones who proves she’s waaaay funnier than her strained bits on the current season of SNL.
Despite its obvious eschewing of the entertainment business and celebrities and its tenuous parallels to Rock’s own career, Top Five miraculously avoids becoming an insular cell of wall-to-wall in-jokes (though there are plenty). For most of its cameo-laden run-time, it’s actually a sophisticated romantic comedy where Dawson’s character has her own ulterior motives that lead to enjoyable banter and palpable chemistry. Both leads relish in bouncing off each other’s energy with Rock finally fulfilling the promise he has always shown and Dawson fulfilling the promise she showed over a decade ago in such films as Sidewalks of New York and 25th Hour. As fabricated as their “all in the same day” whirlwind tour of the city becomes, you root for something real to take root because the two are so engaging and delightful to watch. Continue reading