Blallywood Film Review: Top Five
It’s difficult to forget the painful performance Chris Rock turned out during his guest host spot on Saturday Night Live last month. I winced as I watched, unable to decipher whether fault lied in the hands of the writers or if Rock, dare I say, is rusty. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen him in full form and with Top Five opening this weekend, SNL is a big audience that could have ensured some box office revenue. It’s difficult to pinpoint why Rock’s performance on SNL was so flat but after seeing Top Five I can say with assurance- Chris Rock is not rusty.
Rock plays Andre Allen, a famous comedic actor known for a string of brainless flicks about a human sized teddy bear turned action hero. We meet him at a career transition; he’s sober now and desperately desiring to be taken seriously. He’s promoting a film in New York City about the Haitian Revolution and engaged to marry a reality star played by Gabrielle Union when he falls in love with a New York Times journalist assigned to interview him.
The cameos are pretty remarkable. Clearly, Rock isn’t intimidated by having a screen full of his peers stealing scenes with hilarious one-liners. He even shares the screen with Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, and Adam Sandler in the memorably funny bachelor party scene. In particular, Cedric the Entertainer was gloriously outrageous as a Houston club promoter eager to provide Andre with the best drugs and hoes Houston has to offer. Another scene worth mentioning is when Andre visits the projects in the Bronx where he grew up. After a heartbreaking scene with a bum on the corner in front of the building, we spend a sizable stretch of the film in the tiny apartment of Andre’s former fling, played by Sherri Sheppard. His old clan includes SNL’s Jay Pharaoh, Michael Che, and Leslie Jones along with Tracy Morgan. The chemistry is all you’d ever want in this type of scene. The banter is timed brilliantly, the relationships seem so familiar and warm, and they all take turns grilling and giving Andre a hard time about being “Hollywood.”
Rosario Dawson is magnetic. She is warm, funny, loose, and passionate as the journalist who uses pseudonyms to write seething and sharp film reviews for the Times. After they bond over mutual addiction struggles, Dawson and Rock are actually pretty magical together.
The style feels free in form with swift pedestrian points of view and casual eye-level shots. There are slow-motion montages that stretch stomach-churning moments to hilariously uncomfortable lengths. And, New York City provided a fresh and energetic immediacy, almost like a vintage Spike Lee film.
The film is also thoughtful and sharp. Rock succeeds in wittily commenting on a surprising range of subjects. Perhaps most recurring would be the industry itself, taking jabs at Tyler Perry and the reality show business. The approach is self-deprecating and pretty charming.
Over, though a bit lewd in spots, the film is quite enjoyable. It’s certainly wonderful to see Chris Rock back in the saddle. B+