Rating: 8 out of 10
Chris Rock as Andre Allen
Rosario Dawson as Chelsea Brown
Kevin Hart as Charles
Gabrielle Union as Erica Long
Cedric the Entertainer as Jazzy Dee
J.B. Smoove as Silk
Tracy Morgan as Fred
Sherri Shepherd as Vanessa
Anders Holm as Brad
Romany Malco as Benny Barnes
Leslie Jones as Lisa
Michael Che as Paul
Directed by Chris Rock
Days before his high-profile wedding to a reality star (Gabrielle Union), hot comedian Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is taking a huge chance with his latest venture, starring in a serious drama about the Haitian revolution. While trying to promote it and hoping to be taken seriously, he spends a day with New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who is doing an in-depth profile on the comedian.
There may not be a better time for a Chris Rock comedy than right now, when African Americans are feeling the oppression and injustices of the world being piled upon them and could probably use a good laugh. In that sense, “Top Five” acts almost like a counterpoint to Ava Duvernay’s upcoming “Selma” (another Paramount release) in that it shows how far someone like Rock has come in the world of entertainment without losing sight of his own past.
With that in mind, we may as well call “Top Five” for what it is–“Chris Rock’s Birdman”–because so much of it is culled from his own life and his stand-up act. Like Michael Keaton’s character in that movie, Rock’s Andre Allen has become famous for playing a crimefighter in a ridiculous suit, in this case, a police man wearing a bear suit named “Hammy.” Those movies have made Allen extremely wealthy and famous, something we’re reminded of as Allen walks along the streets of New York and has “Hammy!” shouted at him from all sides.
But “Top Five” also shows how the world has changed around Rock. In his stand-up act, he would often joke about how a black man can never get a taxi to stop for him in New York City, a theory disproven in one of “Top Five’s” few jokes clean enough to be shown in a television commercial.
While promoting his latest film, a departure from what his fans have come to expect from him, Andre Allen is marrying Gabrielle Union’s Erica Long, a reality star who is so conscious of her own image she’s making Andre question whether he’s doing the right thing. Along comes Rosario Dawson’s gorgeous reporter Chelsea Brown to do an extended interview with Allen, which adds even more to Allen’s insecurities about some of his recent decisions.
Rosario Dawson was so terrific playing a lighter role in Kevin Smith’s “Clerks II,” and she brings just as much energy to the role of Brown. As they spend the day visiting Allen’s old stomping grounds, she brings out the best in Rock as an actor who noticeably has to step up his game to keep up with her.
There are a lot of memorable bits in “Top Five,” including Cedric the Entertainer giving a hilarious performance as a Houston promoter in a story told by Andre about an incident that got him to swear off drugs and alcohol. It’s a great character role for Cedric that leads to one of the film’s most R-rated moments.
Then there’s the way Rock uses the film as a showcase for some of the best black comedians working today, including J.B. Smoove as Silk, Allen’s childhood friend who is trying to watch out for him, and Leslie Jones, one of three recent additions to the “Saturday Night Live” cast that appear in the film. She is so funny and irreverent in her few scenes, you quickly realize she could be a huge star with the right film vehicle of her own. Most of Chris Rock’s better friends make cameos, essentially playing themselves, in equally funny scenes, although the likes of Kevin Hart and Tracy Morgan are barely in it more than what we see in the trailer.
One of the main issues I had with the movie was the unrealistic way Chris Rock depicts how movies are made and promoted. Very few movies, almost none, will hold a press junket on the exact same day a movie opens, but in trying to show different aspects of his own life while maintaining the “day in the life” contrivance for his film, Rock cuts corners in the authenticity. Most people won’t care because they’ll enjoy those cameos, but to someone working in the business, it seems careless.
The Bottom Line:
Not meant to be particularly deep or meaningful but still able to include a number of insightful thoughts on showbiz and celebrity, Chris Rock never loses sight of the laughs for his most personal film yet.