Confession: I never knew why so many people thought Chris Rock was funny. Don’t get me wrong, he’s made me laugh in his stand-up specials and on occasion with supporting roles in “Dogma,” “Madagascar,” “The Longest Yard” and the cult classic “Pootie Tang.” The problem was that he never got that one leading movie role that other comedians got: Will Ferrell had “Anchorman,” Adam Sandler had “Happy Gilmore” and Mike Myers had “Austin Powers.” Rock has proven himself as one of the funniest (and most topical) comedians around today, but he never truly thrived in movies where he had the spotlight all to himself. So who better to give Chris Rock his first proper leading role than Chris Rock?
“Top Five” has Chris Rock writing, directing and starring in this sharp look at the after affects of comedic fame and fortune. Rock plays Andre Allen, a comedian who achieved massive acclaim for his stand-up shows (something Rock knows about from experience) but is now primarily known for solving crimes in a bear suit for the blockbuster franchise “Hammy the Bear.” One day in New York City, the world starts to swirl a bit faster for Andre: he’s promoting a new movie where he plays a Haitian slave turned revolutionary and is about to marry reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), who wants the wedding broadcasted on her show. In the midst of all this is Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a New York Times reporter looking to write a profile on Andre as he is about to try more serious movie roles and get married on national television. Andre doesn’t like reporters and critics, but Chelsea’s persistence to talk with the real Andre Allen persuades him to keep her around as he tours around New York City doing press, seeing friends and wondering if he’s truly happy with his new career path.
Not to point out the presumably obvious, but “Top Five” is very funny. Rock’s writing allows him to rip on everything from the addiction of Angry Birds, the draw of Tyler Perry movies and everything in-between. In fact, “Top Five” is less a comedy movie and more of a theatrical version of a Rock stand-up routine. Rock doesn’t save all the jokes for himself by bringing in fellow funny folk like Tracy Morgan, J.B. Smoove, Jerry Seinfeld, Leslie Jones, Kevin Hart and especially Cedric the Entertainer. There’s also Rosario Dawson, who is an absolute delight poking at Andre’s fame, and then leveling with him as he lets his guard down.In fact, Dawson’s Chelsea Brown is basically the female version of Rock, with her modern take on Cinderella involving a Prince concert and topical dialogue. While it seemed easy for Rock to write a female character matching his likes and dislikes, but Dawson makes the chemistry seem so natural.
What makes this movie stand out is how Rock shows the struggle comics have when even the smallest amount of fame hits them. Andre is doing a more serious role because he doesn’t “feel funny” anymore after being worn down from too many Hammy movies and alcohol. Andre Allen’s recent sobriety stresses him out and makes him more aware of who is laughing at him and who wants to laugh with him. The title of “Top Five” refers to Andre asking friends and family who their top five favorite rappers are, but that’s a minor element compared to the rest of the show. “Top Five” is more about the blinding light of fame (specifically for comedians) and how to never let it become too blinding. It’s also about a comic getting a second chance at a self-satisfying form of fame, which is something Chris Rock deserves. He’s been at the driver’s seat of his comedy career all of his life, so it makes sense that he should be in the driver’s seat of his movie career. If Rock can keep making movies as good as “Top Five,” he’s in for a smooth ride.
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4 stars