Top Five is Rock at his rowdiest, creative best
No one is safe from Chris Rock in Top Five, his brilliant skewering of Hollywood, celebrities and the fans obsessed with their every move resulting in one of the year’s smartest, insightful and terrifically funny films of the year.
Rock does triple duty directing, writing and starring as Andre Allen, a stand-up comic who became a box-office sensation playing Hammy the bear in a popular action franchise.
Andre is ready to move on from comedy and wants to move his career in the next direction with more serious fare — namely a drama about a Haitian slave rebellion. Rock expertly voices those stars who sound a bit obnoxious wanting to diversify their skills while showing that other perspective with a running joke where fans and passersby call him ‘Hammy’ where he goes.
On the eve of his film’s release, Andre is being interviewed by Chelsea Brown (a dynamic Rosario Dawson, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), a reporter spending the day with him for a feature article. Shadowed by his longtime friend/bodyguard (J.B. Smoove in a likable supporting role), Andre is stressed as he prepares for his film’s launch and his wedding to reality star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union who offers a surprisingly candid and telling take on the inner thoughts of a reality star) and Chelsea wants to know what happened to the performer once considered the funniest man in America.
Dawson and Rock make for a charming pairing with charisma to spare as Andre shares his rock bottom moment — a scene with Cedric the Entertainer that will leave you tearing up with laughter — while Chelsea shares of her own romantic misadventures. There’s an obvious flirtation there, but will Andre and Chelsea act on it?
Top Five boasts a tremendously talented ensemble in which Rock honors the past with trailblazers before him like Ben Vereen and Whoopi Goldberg to his comedic peers like Adam Sandler, Tracy Morgan and Kevin Hart, but most significantly a passing of the torch to the new generation of stars including Saturday Night Live current performers Leslie Jones, Michael Che and Jay Phraraoh.
The title references a running theme through the show where the characters discuss their Top 5 favorite rappers signaling the music influence on the film.
Rock reportedly wrote the screenplay while filming Grown Ups 2, so haters can be appreciative of the film for at least one reason. If anything, Top Five is a stark reminder that Rock isn’t writing or simply not being given the chance to write nearly enough screenplays as the script feels like that of a comic at the top of his game with a biting and frequently hilarious message for all who will listen.
Rock’s direction is similarly self-assured leading to the audience feeling like they’ve crashed the liveliest, best party of the year.
It’s a testament to the film’s overall quality that it isn’t completely stolen by two of the most unexpectedly hilarious scenes of the year featuring one of the most revered comedians of all-time ‘making it rain’ and a hardcore rapper breaking out in song.
There’s no subject taboo as Rock hits race, fame, music, comedy, addictions and relationships in a refreshingly open and honest fashion. Top Five isn’t so easily categorized as a comedy or a drama, but a genuine state of America in 2014 that’s both timely and timeless. If it wasn’t on your holiday must-see list, it’s time to start adjusting your ranking and put Top Five right at the top.
Rating: 10 out of 10
**Photo credits: Paige Goldstein/Paramount Pictures