Director: Chris Rock
Cast: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Cedric The Entertainer, JB Smoove, Sherri Shepherd, Anders Holm, Romany Malco, Leslie Jones
Release Date: December 12th, 2014
Chris Rock is best known to audiences worldwide as a comedian. His comedy is edgy, information pills sometimes-controversial and often very pointed. In many of the films Rock has starred in— and he has starred in a number of them— he’s often been relegated to a supporting role unworthy of his time (Grown Ups and What to Expect When You’re Expecting come to mind).
In his new comedy Top Five, more about Rock is the writer, the director and also the main actor. In other words, this is his movie and given his many roles in the production, this is his opportunity to bring his biting comedy to bear on the industry he works in.
The problem isn’t that Rock doesn’t have a point to make— he does. The problem is that his characters are too over-the-top and their actions too cartoonish to keep the story together. Rock plays Andre Allen, a great comedian who, in 2005, was named the funniest man in America. Allen is a successful actor as well starring in a successful film series about a funnyman dressed as a bear fighting crime.
Allen, though, isn’t content with dressing as a bear and bouncing from club to club as a stand-up. “I’m past stand up. I’m done with it,” he tells Charlie Rose. Instead, he— like so many real comedians before him— has decided to make a film that he’s passionate about. His new dramatic film Uprize tells the story of a Haitian slave rebellion. It’s a change of pace for him and one that he hopes audiences will embrace.
On his film’s opening day, Allen begrudgingly agrees to a day-long interview with New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). Top Five follows them around town as Brown asks Allen about his departure from comedy, his battle with alcoholism, and his engagement to reality show star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union). Rock has much to say about these topics but in his performance, he seems to be trying too hard to earn laughs, even when the jokes aren’t there. He acts as if he’s onstage (or performing for a crowd) even when he’s not, which can be a bit distracting.
When Rock is riffing here— as he does throughout the feature— his thoughts are as incisive and provocative as his comedy. When he explaining why Planet of the Apes has a connection to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination or when he’s discussing Bill Cosby (“our greatest storyteller”) and other well-known funnymen, he’s showing what he’s capable of as a writer and comedian.
The problem is that the plot itself takes too many detours into the cartoonish and too often relies on crude unfunny humor to develop the plot. Cedric the Entertainer appears as Jazzy Dee, an outlandish caricature whose experience with Allen gets Allen to quit drinking. Their scenes are played for easy laughs but feel out of place in a movie that is striving to be intelligent. The same goes for the scenes involving Brad (Anders Holm), Chelsea’s pompous boyfriend, who– of course– isn’t as sweet as he appears.
There’s much to like about Chris Rock’s Top Five but it never really worked as an entire film for me. Allen’s engagement to Long might be the smartest element of this film as it blends the humor of Rock (and his critique of the reality show culture) into a plotline— the couple’s upcoming nuptials— that actually works.
I only wish that the rest of the plot developments were as fully-conceived and developed as that.
Review by: John Hanlon