Schizophrenic ‘Top Five’ is Evolution for Chris Rock

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CHICAGO – Chris Rock wants you to take him seriously, so he has made a comedy with inconsistent laughs, and a nod towards the weird fishbowl lives that today’s celebrities endure. It’s a rare film where the last part is stronger than the first few acts, a mishmash that is “Top Five.”

Rock writes, directs and stars in the film, his attempt to do a Woody Allen-esque inner exploration of his character’s roots and dynamics. It’s a thinly veiled autobiography, if Rock were in a parallel world where he is a recovering substance abuser and settles on popularity rather than talent. The dialogue is stiff, but the statements are sound, Rock just needed a bit more truth to accomplish what he wanted to say, which is the “path to freedom is paved in love.” The repeat of this shopworn theme – passed through a fairy tale analogy – is designed to show off depth, but more often only skims the surface.

Andre (Chris Rock) is a New York City comedian who has made a series of popular yet stupid movies and sequels. This has taken care of his career, and his fiancee (Gabrielle Union) – a reality TV show star – is planning their wedding for her show. All this occurs at the same time that Andre is releasing his first “serious” movie, a historic piece about a slave uprising in Haiti.

Chris Rock
Andre (Chris Rock) on the Air in ‘Top Five’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

When the the New York Times assigns a features reporter (Rosario Dawson) to profile Andre’s opening weekend, their journey together takes him back to his housing project roots, his recovery stories, his comedy and his fears. His odd life as a semi-celebrity is thrown back into his face, and the only hope he has is his own ability to stay sober through the series of trials.

The situation that the screenwriter Rock conceives is awkward, and doesn’t work as something that reflects back to real life. Everything is set up as a stage piece – as in Dawson’s character being a single Mom and hotshot New York Times reporter – and seems a bit too convenient as foreshadowing devices. Even the recovering substance abuse doesn’t work, because Rock doesn’t have the acting chops to pull it off, so it dissolves into a soap opera type will-he-or-won’t-he fall off the wagon, and even worse a stage for cheap drama.

The supporting women are not written well, Dawson is too gratingly saintly and Gabrielle Union is too stereotypical, and neither have any depth. Rock has more fun writing for his buddies, as Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld get much better material. Whoopi Goldberg acts as she is embarrassed to be in the film, and a wax figure could have easily stood in for her.

There is a strange flashback to the low point of Andre’s life, but it’s mostly an opportunity to examine a typical view of prostitutes, and a truly weird Cedric the Entertainer, attempting a character that is not quite understandable. Cedric should stick to the stand-up stage, he flops like a beached fish in most character parts he attempts in movies, and here is no exception. It wasn’t a strongly written role, and Cedric’s choices make it more painful.

Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson
Andre Versus the Reporter (Rosario Dawson) in ‘Top Five’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

But behind all the surface flaws is some underlying commentary on celebrity life, which starts to boil over towards the end of the film. Andre’s fake bachelor party is a hoot, with Sandler, Seinfeld and Goldberg playing “themselves,” but in a foul mouthed, ultra-characterized version of themselves. Jerry Seinfeld had the best time with this twist, looking positively gleeful as he skewers his “clean” image. Again, why Goldberg is in this scene is not evident, but the party is the highlight of a very weird and pointed last act.

Chris Rock is moving on and forward, and the film does reveal a bit of potential as a filmmaker. The writer in Rock needs to resist the temptation towards the easy, surface oriented humor and work on the depth of his characters. With a more determined direction, the Comic Kid could be a contender.

“Top Five” opens everywhere on December 11th. Featuring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, Adam Sandler and J.B. Smoove. Written and directed by Chris Rock. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Writer, Editorial Coordinator
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2014 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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