Rock’s ‘Top Five’ works more than it doesn’t

by Trevan McGee on December 12, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up

Chris Rock writes and directs Top Five, a showbiz romantic comedy that is loose, sometimes broad and often hilarious. Rock plays Andre, a recovering alcoholic/Hollywood actor promoting his dramatic debut during a single day in New York. His day is complicated by is fiancé, played by Gabrielle Union, a budding reality TV star who is planning their televised wedding on Bravo, and a reporter, played by Rosario Dawson, profiling him for the New York Times.

The setup is heavily telegraphed and predictable, but genre movies should be judged on execution first and originality second, and Top Five delivers more often than it doesn’t. Rock splits the difference between acting and riffing, which  sometimes fits into the story and sometimes doesn’t. Likewise, the plot is at times unfocused, spending a huge chunk of time on flashback the lands on a remarkably unfunny rape joke and is the movie’s absolute low point. And the conclusion drags before arriving where we all knew it was going anyway.

Rock is admittedly a huge Woody Allen fan and at times he channels that in the production of Top Five. There are incredible, sweeping shots of New York that liken to Manhattan. Dawson is his Diane Keaton – a working-class artist with some baggage that somehow manages to say the right thing at the right time, be accessibly aloof and look like Rosario Dawson. Like Allen’s New York films, the soundtrack is tied closely to the character’s background, and is rather fantastic, thanks to music supervisor Amir-Khalib “?uestlove” Thompson.

He also inherits some of Allen’s bad habits. Other than its rape joke, Top Five is at its worst when its self-indulgent and a bit isolating. The movie downplays Andre’s fame, but embraces it when its convenient to the story or when Rock needs some conflict to move the story along.

Top Five‘s strongest element is its supporting cast, which features J.B. Smoove, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Sherri Shepard, Michael Che and a ton of cameos, two of which are so funny they deserve to remain unspoiled. There’s a particular scene when Rock’s character visits his old friends in Brooklyn. It is essentially five funny people improvising while a camera doesn’t cut away, and the result is the funniest scene of the year.

Rock has been campaigning hard for Top Five and the results of his pet project are worth your time. Top Five is loose, at times sloppy and predictable, but it’s also howling funny and expertly made. It’ll be interesting to see what Chris Rock, the auteur does next.

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