Friday 13 March 2015

Film Review: Top Five

Top Five is a comedy that is written by, directed by and starring Chris Rock. In it, Rock plays a washed-up actor named Andre Allen who is haunted by a series of demeaning comedy films he wants to leave behind. 

It also stars Rosario Dawson, JB Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart and Tracy Morgan.

Meet Andre Allen (Chris Rock), a past his prime stand-up comic and actor who lost his way in Hollywood through a series of misdemeanours, alcoholism and depravity. Best known for a series of films where he plays Hammy the Bear, a cop in a bear costume, Andre is looking to turn over a new leaf and work on something more serious and dramatic. However, his engagement to reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) is overshadowing his new movie about the Haitian slave revolution and no-one seems interested in taking this funnyman seriously, much to Andre's frustration.

Andre is approached by Chelsea (Rosario Dawson), a journalist interested in writing a piece on him for The New York Times. The two spend the day together as Andre goes about attending a series of press junkets and interviews for his new movie - throughout this, the two discuss his career (past, present and future) as well as his ambitions, observations and frustrations.

Don't shoot me, but I'm not that knowledgeable on Chris Rock or his past work. Aside from his voice acting in the Madagascar series, there are only a couple of films I can recall him appearing in. Whilst it's a little scatterbrained, Top Five does glimpse at the kind of stuff I've been missing out on though.

Top Five shows that Chris Rock has a very distinct voice as a filmmaker and that he has a lot to say about celebrity culture - unsurprisingly from a stand-up comic, no-one is safe from ridicule in this movie, whether they be Barack Obama, k.d. lang or Tyler Perry.

Rock aims his sights at everything across celebrity culture from reality TV, Hollywood fickleness and tabloid journalism. The writing and inward observational comedy in this movie is really well done, and as a result, the film is littered with knowing winks, referential humour and self-depreciation. It's kind of similar to Birdman in the way that it approaches topics such as ego, legacy and the relationship between actors and critics.

A lot of the comedy in Top Five comes from the snappy script, but Rock also understands the importance of visual comedy. There are a lot of sight gags that'll not only make you laugh, but also change the way you look at things like hot sauce, bears and tampons. Word of warning though - a lot of the references and jokes are rooted in American media and culture. Even though I caught one here or there, I felt like a lot just flew right over my head.

The same can be said for the raft of guest stars that crop up. One scene where Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld and Whoopi Goldberg chat about R'n'B in a strip club is hilarious whilst others, like a cameo from rapper DMX, are just plain weird. I guess others will appreciate moments like these more than I did, I'm just saying this kind of thing is inevitable if you throw loads of guest stars at a film and hope they stick.

The plot is a bit disjointed at times - set over the course of one day, Top Five also jumps into the past as Andre relays anecdotes to Chelsea (and visa versa) during their prolonged interview. They start out as you would expect but are actually longer and more detailed than you would think. It means that when you're finally ripped back to the primary narrative it can feel a little jarring. That being said - Andre's Houston anecdote is really crass and funny.

The Verdict: 7/10

Funny, stylish and clever, Top Five manages to combine side-splitting laughs with touching drama and biting satire. Chris Rock is to Andre Allen what Michael Keaton was to Riggan Thompson; a distorted version of real-life that holds a mirror up to the industry and tells it how it is. It could've dialled back on the crudeness, but Top Five is one of more intelligent comedies of recent years.

Top Five is in cinemas now.


  1. Glad you enjoyed it. To be honest, I liked it far more. I have as one of 2014''s best of what I've seen so far. You make some interesting points about how this plays to a non-American audience. I hadn't thought of that angle. With me being American, more specifically, African-American, nearly every joke and reference felt spot-on. When something hits you that way it can be difficult to realize that not everyone shares the same vantage point as yourself. Thanks for enlightening me.

    1. Thanks for commenting Wendell - it's great to hear differing opinions and interesting to hear how the film plays to different audiences. I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

  2. I'm looking forward to this, based on the buzz and early word, but I have my expectations in check due to my overall feelings towards Rock in general. Really nice review, buddy!

    1. Not a big fan of the (other) Rock? :P I'm really not all that familiar with his work so I had no preconceptions going in. Thanks for commenting mate :)



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