This romantic comedy, which stars Chris Rock as stand-up comic-turned movie star Andre Allen and Rosario Dawson as Chelsea Brown, a New York Times journalist who interviews him for a feature piece, is a very self-indulgent affair, but when it ditches the unnecessarily chummy celebrity cameos and concentrates on the two leads together it’s fairly amiable. Rock is both the writer and director of Top Five, as well as the star, and Andre is based almost entirely on his own career and personality, to the point that you presume the anecdotal asides peppering this film happened in real life. When we meet Allen he’s going through a very familiar professional crisis. He’s best known for a comedy franchise called Hammy, in which he plays a giant wisecracking bear who also happens to be a police officer (partnered by Luis Guzman, no less). Yet he wants to be taken seriously as an actor, and has a new biopic coming out called Uprize, in which he plays Dutty Boukman, one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution; the trouble is people just want him to sign on for a fourth Hammy film. (Rock’s three biggest hits to date are the three Madagascar animated films; a fourth is in the pipeline, tentatively scheduled for 2018.)
There are obvious parallels with Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thompson in Birdman, but this is a far more straightforward film, and is shamelessly blatant in the way that it presents its protagonist’s problems, as well as the way in which it finds solutions for him. Brown’s job is to accompany Allen for the day in New York City, and the pair walk and drive around the city, developing a bond as they visit Andre’s family and friends, among others. They both start off in relationships – he’s about to wed Gabrielle Union’s fellow ‘sleb in a glitzy, high-profile showbiz ceremony, she has a boyfriend – but in that highly unlikely movie way the path eventually becomes clear for both of the main characters to act upon their new mutual attraction. A scene in which a number of Andre’s family and friends dish the dirt on him while also discussing their top five favourite rappers (a running theme, hence the title) is a highlight, but it’s offset by grating cameos featuring the likes of DMX, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld and Adam Sandler, all of which come laced with interminable smugness. (Sandler does at least inadvertently provide one of the film’s wittiest moments when a placeholder with his name on it is unceremoniously taken off the front row to make way for Tyra Banks during a wedding dress-rehearsal.) Dawson provides capable support but really the film is just a platform for its director, writer and star to show off his motormouth talents; he even shoehorns a short stand-up routine into the final act, although at least there’s no attempt to dress Top Five up as something other than a Chris Rock vehicle. He isn’t at his best here, but at 50 it’s good to see he hasn’t lost any energy, and as a writer he is still fairly insightful about a range of topics.
Directed by: Chris Rock.
Written by: Chris Rock.
Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, JB Smoove, Cedric The Entertainer, Tracy Morgan.
Cinematography: Manuel Alberto Claro.
Editing: Anne McCabe.
Music: Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, Ludwig Göransson, Various.
Running Time: 101 minutes.