Written, directed by and starring Chris Rock, Top Five is his take on Celebrity with its pitfalls, problems, fears and since this is Chris Rock, the comedy behind the fame. This is the second time that the 49 year old stand up comedian, actor, writer, director, and producer has donned three hats for a film. In 2007, Rock was also a “three man band” on I Think I Love My Wife and that film, which was a romantic dramedy, was pretty much panned by critics upon its release. This is Rock’s third time directing a feature length film and his fourth time directing, when including one episode of his television comedy series Everybody Hates Chris.
Chris plays Andre Allen a successful stand up comic and actor who is struggling to be taken seriously after turning his back on the money-making comedies which his public adore and his stand up comedy routines. After making three “Hammy” movies, which feature Allen in a bear suit whose catchphrase is “It’s Hammy time!” Allen’s latest film is about a Haitian revolutionary who leads his fellow former slaves in Haiti to freedom after slaying 50,000 white people. The film is bombing and Andre is on the promotional train plugging his film on TV, radio and press junkets.
Allen gets notice from his agent that James Nielsen, a critic from The Times who has savaged the comic actor repeatedly in print, wants to interview him. Andre says no and chooses instead the young woman Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson and she ends up accompanying Allen through his day and they talk about everything. Allen, who is set to marry reality TV star Erica Long, played by the gorgeous and talented Gabrielle Union from Being Mary Jane, is under pressure from the success or failure of his first film that is not a Hammy movie and the ongoing televised wedding plans to his fiance.
Along the way, Andre and Chelsea bond and both learn that they are addicts who have been clean for four years. Later in the film Andre goes over the top by losing his temper at a beer stand for “Hammy” beer. This film offers a cornucopia of well known actors and stars who do short turns in the film, best known are Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld and Whoopi Goldberg in a cameo where all three appear. However, Ben Vereen has a small bit in the film that completely blows everyone else off the screen. The man who took America by storm in 1977 as Chicken George in Roots proves that his chops are still huge and the actor is still at the top of his game on screen.
There are several Saturday Night Live performers who make cameo appearances in the film and they support the fellow SNL alumni Chris Rock quite well in his take on celebrity. The film is funny and sort of feels like an elongated Chris Rock monologue, in spirit at least. The humor is all top notch “Rock” and funny, but the film is not unforgettable, just enjoyable. Chris knows how to get laughs from his audience and his Andre Allen may be flawed, but he is likeable and the audience get behind him in his journey.
One interesting thing about Top Five has nothing to do with the creative force that is Chris Rock, but the producers behind the scenes. Two of the credited producers are Jay Z and Kanye West. It is very tempting to read a lot into the male member of Kimye producing a film where one of the major characters is a female reality TV star who tells her star fiance that the world has to see him picking her, because she has nothing but her famous for being famous status. She even goes on to press the point saying that she has no talent. One cannot really imagine Kim Kardashian being overly pleased with Top Five including this character who is so similar to West’s wife.
Top Five is rated a “hard” R for very grown up humor about race and sex, essentially the film is a lot like Chris Rock’s stand up comedy. The movie looks at the down side of celebrity and gives the audience a bit of an autobiographical take on Rock’s life. The film opens on December 12 and fans will adore this film. Prepare to laugh a lot and to really enjoy this not too deep film that entertains but contains no real social or redeeming message, as Chelsea Brown says at one point in the film, “sometimes a movie is just a movie.”
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square Theater 18