Top Five (2015)

Top FiveOstensibly doing press for his latest movie, Uprize! — a little-seen and even lesser-loved account of the Haitian Revolution — Andre Allen (Chris Rock) instead finds himself fielding questions on everything from his stand-up origins and his big-screen success as Hammy The Bear to his pending marriage to reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union). Meanwhile, an interview with The New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) veers even further off topic, as the journalist proceeds to probe him on his well-publicised fall from grace — one which, according to the paper’s chief critic, he has yet to recover from. As Allen becomes increasingly disillusioned with the media, Brown struggles to balance her professional responsibilities with her own personal opinions.

According to Top Five, the third film to be written and directed by Chris Rock, “interesting” is the sort of thing polite people say about a movie that isn’t particularly good, or in his character’s case performing particularly well. In fact, judging by the billboards advertising Uprize! it’s the most positive thing the country’s critics have to say on the subject — something that earns an audible sigh as Allen passes by. However, while it might not be what every insider wants to hear, being interesting isn’t always just a consolation prize; in Top Five‘s case it’s simply a statement of fact. As a film it’s funny, moving and insightful — giving its own PR department a much easier task — but it’s Top Five‘s intelligence that really sets it apart from the rest.

A meta-satire that casts Rock as an ex-alcoholic stand-up looking to atone for a string of embarrassing action-comedies with an awards-bait historical drama, Top Five could easily have pitched itself as self-deprecation or been dismissed as Birdman-lite — a comparison that might have been easier had Rock cast someone like Eddie Murphy in the leading role. (Hammy the bear is more Donkey the donkey than Marty the Zebra.) Rock’s film, however, boasts a much wider focus, eschewing the expected character study in favour of social commentary. Top Five is as much about cinema, celebrity culture and changing social mores as it is about Andre Allen or Chris Rock. Also under scrutiny are Barrack Obama, Tyler Perry films and the top five greatest hip-hop artists of all time.

Perhaps so that he doesn’t come across as self-indulgent, Rock has generously given the best part to someone else. Allen may get many of the biggest laughs, but it’s Dawson’s Chelsea Brown who arguably makes the biggest impression. For all the film’s talk of race and discrimination — whether it’s the supposedly racist subtext of The Planet of the Apes or the nebulous acceptibility of the infamous ‘N’ word — it actually feels strangely feminist. Chelsea is undoubtedly the stronger of the two leads, and remains in control throughout, whether she’s escorting Allen home to collect her Dictaphone and meet her family, or fighting her own distinct battle with latent alcoholism. The actors have terrific chemistry, and the film is at its most compelling when the two of them are together, even if they’re only walking and talking.

Unfortunately, it does falter when they are apart — Rock’s occasional detours into their respective backstories stalling the narrative by separating the characters for far too long. The worst offender is an extended flashback to Allen’s self-confessed rock-bottom, brought on by one of Chelsea’s typically probing questions (Robert Downey Jnr would have presumably walked out by this point). Years ago, before his self-imposed sobriety, Allen was partying in Houston with Jazzy Dee when a poorly-judged sexual encounter landed him — briefly — in prison. Chelsea, too, is afforded a single flashback, neither of which sit particularly well within the wider story. Presumably, Rock was simply trying to find room for his friends, as Top Five includes an almost overwhelming array of cameos, involving everyone from Whoopie Goldberg to Cedric the Entertainer, and Adam Sandler to DMX.

Top five may be a little optimistic, but at this point at least Rock’s latest easily ranks among the top ten of 2015 so far. Witty and well-observed, the script is matched only by the performances. One thing’s for certain, however: it’s the best Cinderella movie you’ll see this year.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Top Five (2015)

  1. Nostra says:

    Happy to read you liked it…I compared it to the Before trilogy movies as it had that same feel, although with a Chris Rock twist.

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