Published Sep 10, 2014It's no secret that while Chris Rock has established himself as one the world's funniest stand-up comedians, he's also struggled to translate his humour over to movie theatres, with previous directorial efforts Head of State and I Think I Love My Wife. That's why it may not exactly be high praise to say that Top Five is Rock's best film to date and the closest he's come to distilling his brand of comedy for the screen. It may lack the kind of incisive social commentary that's often present in his best material, but it's propelled by an infectiously raunchy and freewheeling energy.
Rock plays Andre Allen, a former comic who's forever reminded of his role in a lucrative series of films as a talking bear named Hammy who fights crime alongside Luis Guzman. He's decided recently to take his career in a more serious direction, as he's on the eve of releasing an Oscar bait movie called Uprize! in which he plays a murderous Haitian slave. He's also about to marry a gorgeous but incredibly controlling reality star (Gabrielle Union).
In the midst of a publicity blitz, Andre meets with a journalist from the New York Times (Rosario Dawson) and allows her to accompany him for the day to help research a profile piece. They are both recovering alcoholics and, as Andre recounts all of the sordid details of how he went from that comedian who impressed her so much when she saw him live years ago to someone who's now on the verge of appearing on Dancing With The Stars, the two begin to establish a connection.
Rock populates the film with funny people, from Cedric the Entertainer as the Houston liaison that played a big part in Andre's low point, to JB Smoove as Andre's old friend and bodyguard who's always close by when not propositioning full-figured women. There are also memorable appearances by Tracy Morgan, Workaholics' Anders Holm and a few choice cameos near the end that won't be spoiled here.
For all the laughs though — and there are quite a few big ones along the way — they can't entirely obscure the clunky and predictable plotting. It helps some to have Dawson as an ideal match for Rock to banter with, but there are tangents that go on too long and some noticeable lulls in between those big laughs.
Rock's always had the ability to impress with how creative he can get with his vulgarity and, though there are plenty of sequences here that bear that trademark subversive spirit, it's still hemmed in by an all-too familiar framework and hampered by pervasive shoddiness. (Paramount)