Review: Top Five

TopFiveThey say three times a charm, and that could not be more accurate for famed comedian, Chris Rock, and his directorial experiences. After two mildly successful comedic films, he hits back after a seven year hiatus with Top Five. Rock has clearly picked up some tricks of the directing trade during his time off and it shows. Here he adds a level of maturity to his direction style, but was still able to keep that edge that we have come to admire about his comedy with no compromises in the end product. Top Five tells the story of Andre Allen (Chris Rock), a highly successful comedian who is at the top of his game. However, he decides that he is done being funny and wants to do more serious films, namely one about the Haitian slave uprising. After playing a talking bear who wields two guns and is a cop its a tad difficult for his fan base to take his new found film identity seriously. Of course the role of Andre Allen reflects Chris Rock’s career pretty directly, and the careers of some other Black comedians in Hollywood. This connection ingratiated me with the character almost immediately. There was no sense for getting to know Andre, we know him by another name so we can move quickly to the meat of the plot. On the eve of Andre’s wedding to reality starlet Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), Andre is asked to be interviewed by a reporter from The New York Times named Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). Chelsea is a go getter who requests to follow Andre around and do an in depth report with him about his life and changing career. Andre reluctantly agrees and goes about his day promoting his film. Chelsea, who is a fan of Allen’s, presses him on why he doesn’t seem funny anymore. She presses his button in the exact way no one has in quite some time. Her uniqueness is what causes him to open up to her and he divulges stories of his past. A story his tells about his early days of “making it” are easily some of the film’s funniest. However, I found the entire film experience to be a laugh out loud good time all the way through.

Rock makes an effort to include up and coming comedians and his friends who are old warhorses in the comedy game as a large part of the film. There have been many films that have tried to do this mix as of late and it frankly hasn’t worked; see the Grown Ups and The Expendables franchises. However, Rock absolutely nails it and utilizes the new and the old crews in the best of ways. There are some stellar cameos that were thankfully not spoiled by over zealous trailer editors. The movie feels, in many ways, to be a reunion of your all time favorites in new and interesting locales. Speaking of locales, the film takes place largely in New York City. This time around, Rock really shows off some incredible cinematic shots of the city. On his day long interview with Chelsea, Andre revisits his old neighborhood and some upscale spots around the city. Rock is able to make each spot feel unique; from gritty to high brow. In the same vein as 2 Days in Paris (Rock was in the sequel, 2 Days in New York), we get to watch Chelsea and Andre truly discover each other over the course of a day. A sweet story that has been told many times, but here it has a flair and style that keeps it fresh.

Earlier I mentioned the film’s level of maturity, and the take on the common story is where that really shines. Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean this movie doesn’t have Rock’s signature no holds barred humor, quite the contrary. However, he is able to weave a story that keeps it from just being a silly exercise. He is able to elevate such a common story to the level of actual freshness, and for that he should commended. Rosario Dawson’s Chelsea has a real sense of depth, mystery, and sadness to her. In the end, she is a woman that we are, know, or are becoming; she feels genuine. Chris Rock’s Andre Allen is a clear reflection of himself and his interesting critique on his own career trajectory. Never taking himself particularly too seriously, he works to just be himself in front and behind the camera. If you are looking for a smart, ill-mannered, and absolutely hilarious movie then Chris Rock’s Top Five is the no-brainer choice.

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