Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union
Directed by: Chris Rock (“I Think I Love My Wife”)
Written by: Chris Rock (“I Think I Love My Wife”)
As a stand-up comedian, Chris Rock has had a long-lasting and strong career at the top of the food chain, selling out theaters and arenas and picking up awards for his specials. He has also had a great run on TV, with his successful HBO series, “The Chris Rock Show,” which also won Rock an Emmy. The one area Rock has yet to conquer is films where Rock’s two writer/directorial efforts have been met with poor critical reception and a matching box office total. With “Top Five,” however, Rock takes a strong leap towards capturing the essence of his stand up and talent for the big screen.
As a comedian who became a comedy film star, Andre Allen (Rock) no longer feels funny and wants his fans to take his dramatic work seriously. On the precipice of his wedding to a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union) and the big weekend opening of his new dramatic film, Allen begrudgingly agrees to an interview with New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (played aptly by Rosario Dawson) and finds himself unexpectedly opening up.
Though it isn’t exactly based on his life or career, it is easy to see how the concept of “Top Five” can be one shared by a comedian boxed into the genre and the pressures that go into having to be “funny” at all times. The films finest moments are when Rock goes off on tangents with bits of dialogue that sound stripped directly from a stand up act. Larger than life scenes like Rock’s retelling of a story of a crazy promoter in Houston played wonderfully by an energetic Cedric the Entertainer or a cameo filled bachelor party (including a Jerry Seinfeld cameo that is equal parts the most and least Seinfeldian thing you’ve ever seen) are sharply written and laugh out loud funny.
Once you get down to the deeper elements of the story, however, the façade begins to crack and the narrative can’t stand on its own. The film revolves around an ongoing interview, but the actual interview itself never seems to take place and the relationship that forms is never worth investing in. Rock also fails to provide any real commentary into the struggles of being a comedic actor who wants to be taken seriously or have his public perception adjusted, reality TV or the trappings of fame and expectation. There is also the case of the films title which is a reference to an omnipresent “Top Five Greatest Rappers of All Time” list that Rock likes to ask people. It’s a throwaway plot point that means nothing integral to the film itself, which makes the decision to title the film after it baffling.
“Top Five” as a complete piece is a bit of a frustrating experience. Make no mistake, when the film’s comedic moments hit, they hit hard providing big laughs. For all of its strong comedy, however, the film feels more like a collection of loosely connected vignettes, both comedic and dramatic, where none of the other plot points or writing clicks in a meaningful way. The film is at its most fun when Rock gets to let loose with jokes, be himself and parade out his cavalcade of comedian friends. Fortunately for Rock, there are enough of these moments to make “Top Five” an enjoyable watch and an undeniable step forward in the world of filmmaking.