Written and Directed by Chris Rock
Produced by Eli Bush, Barry Diller and Scott Rudin
IAC films/Scott Rudin Productions/Paramount Pictures
“Sometimes it’s just a movie”
“It’s never just a movie.”
Those lines of dialog are spoken by the two main characters in one of the first scenes of TOP FIVE: The first line is spoken by Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) a journalist from The New York Times who is assigned to interview the speaker of the second line; Andre Allen (Chris Rock). Andre is the hottest comedian in America, having made a fortune and success in film with his “Hammy The Bear” series in which he plays a cop in a bear suit. Andre is eager to break out of comedy and show what he can do as a dramatic actor. The same day he is being interviewed by Chelsea is also the day his new movie “Uprize” hits the theaters. It’s a movie about the Haitian Uprising and Andre has pinned all his hopes for his future career on this movie. At the same time he’s preparing for his wedding to Bravo’s reality TV star Eric Long (Gabrielle Union). It’s going to be quite a day. And thankfully for us, the audience it’s going to be a very funny and even thought provoking one as well.
Those two lines are repeated a couple of times in the movie and I have to believe that as the writer of the movie Chris Rock wants them to stand out and not let us forget them as we watch TOP FIVE. Because yes, it is just a movie but at the same time it’s not just a movie. For 102 minutes Chris Rock makes us laugh until we pee in our pants, sure. But in the same movie he also has some extremely insightful and perceptive things to say about reality TV, addiction to not just alcohol but to fame, the joys and fears of being a celebrity, race, politics and relationships as well. Halfway through the movie it suddenly hit me what it reminded me of; Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories” which itself was influenced by Fellini’s “81/2.” Not a bad pedigree if you ask me.
And much like “Stardust Memories” even though there’s a lot of extremely funny scenes in TOP FIVE it can’t rightly be called a straight up and down comedy. There’s a lot of pathos and brutal honesty in scenes such as when Andre returns to his old neighborhood so that Chelsea can interview his ex-girlfriend (Sherri Shepherd) and some of his boys (one of them played by Tracy Morgan). They claim that Andre was a lot funnier when he was drunk or high and Andre is pretty much sure that they’re right. He quit drinking after a harrowing weekend in Houston with Jazzy Dee (Cedric The Entertainer) but the stress of the wedding and the movie opening is causing him to seriously think about throwing sobriety out of the window. It’s a concern to his faithful boyhood friend and now bodyguard Silk (J.B. Smoove) who is trying to bag himself a date with every full-figured woman he meets while keeping an eye on his boss.
As Andre and Chelsea go through the day with Andre preparing for the wedding and doing interviews for the movie, they talk about their lives, their families and what exactly it is that they’re doing with their lives and why. It’s serious stuff, yeah, but there are some downright goofy moments that have you gasping with laughing such as the bachelor party where Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld give Andre marriage advice. Or Chelsea explaining her boyfriend Brad and his sexual preferences.
It’s refreshing to be able to say that I truly didn’t think that there’s a single bad performance in the movie. Maybe it’s because most of the cast members are only on screen for a few minutes at a time and so were able to give their best, which they certainly did. Chris Rock certainly put together a diverse and eclectic cast. Besides those I’ve already named you also have Luis Guzman, Opie and Anthony, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe (who shows here as she did in “Tower Heist” that she has a definite talent for comedy) Ben Vereen and Kevin Hart. And there’s a really surprising cameo that takes place in a jail cell that is not only downright surrealistic but for me, was the biggest laugh in the movie.
So should you see TOP FIVE? Without a doubt, Yes. It’s vulgar, it’s gross at times (watch out for that scene in Houston) and it shifts back and forth between comedy and drama with no warning at all and may make you wonder at times as if you should be laughing at what you’re laughing at. But it also manages to be a psychological study of a talented man still trying to figure out what he wants his life to be and a really interesting romantic story as well. Not many people can claim to be able to look at their own public image and explore it objectively but I think that’s exactly what Chris Rock is doing in TOP FIVE and he does it very well. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what he does next. Go see and enjoy with my blessing.
Rated R: And that R rating ain’t just for show. There’s drug and alcohol use, male and female nudity, fairly explicit sex and raw language. This is most definitely NOT for the kids so if you’re going to go see it, stop being cheap and spring for a babysitter. Leave the kids at home. And if you’ve got sensitive ears and eyes you yourself may want to give this a pass.