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New Release Review - TOP FIVE

A comedian wishing to be taken seriously struggles to break away from his comic reputation.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Chris Rock

Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, JB Smoove, Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart



"On the evidence of the ramshackle Top Five, I'm not entirely convinced that being taken seriously is something Rock really cares about. Like the protagonist of his film, Rock seems eager to create a movie with a message, but doesn't seem to know himself what that message is."



There seems to come a point in every comic performer's life at which they they wish to be taken 'seriously'. This usually means being cast against type in a dramatic, rather than comedic role. Some have managed this transition flawlessly, none more so than the late Robin Williams, whom younger audiences barely associated with comedy by the time of his passing. Now it's the turn of Chris Rock, who is taking matters into his own hands in writing and directing Top Five, a tale of a popular comic actor who pines for serious respect.
Rock's loose alter-ego Andre Allen (named no doubt as a nod to Rock's comic idol Woody) is basically a more famous, less affable substitute for Rock himself. The star of the hit Hammy the Bear franchise, in which he plays the titular character clad in a bear suit, Allen's latest movie, Uprize, the story of the Haitian revolution, is opening in theatres. His big break into the world of dramatic roles, Allen is determined to make the movie a hit, lining up radio appearances throughout its opening day. He also reluctantly agrees to be shadowed for the day by Chelsea (Rosario Dawson), a reporter for the New York Times, a paper whose film critic hasn't minced words in his disdain for Allen's work.
On the evidence of the ramshackle Top Five, I'm not entirely convinced that being taken seriously is something Rock really cares about. If you ask me, Top Five is more of a homage to Woody Allen's Stardust Memories - itself a homage to Fellini's  - than a genuinely auto-biographical piece on the part of Rock. At the time of Stardust Memories, Allen had earned the right for career introspection, having already given us more great movies than most filmmakers could hope to leave behind at the end of a lengthy career. Conversely, Rock is still primarily known as a standup comic. His filmography contains such clangers as Grown Ups, Death at a Funeral and Beverly Hills Ninja. It's no shock then when the highlight of Top Five turns out to be a short piece of standup from Allen during an impromptu stop at the Comedy Cellar, New York's live comedy mecca.
Like the protagonist of his film, Rock seems eager to create a movie with a message, but doesn't seem to know himself what that message is. Is he telling us comic performers should be happy that they possess the gift to make the masses laugh? This doesn't seem to be the case; there are no Sullivan's Travels lightbulb moments here. Yet the idea of 'going straight' is crudely mocked too; Uprize is portrayed as a ludicrous movie with over the top billboards. 12 Years a Slave it ain't.
Rock clouds his film in a fog of contradiction and hypocrisy. One of the few genuinely amusing and insightful scenes has a radio DJ struggle to find an inoffensive way of asking Allen to record a promo in stereotypical 'ghetto' style. But mere minutes later Rock presents us with a bunch of negative black stereotypes of his own making when Allen visits his family. His father is a drunken bum, one brother refuses to find work, while another has a police tag on his ankle. The one-man film industry Tyler Perry is constantly mocked throughout the narrative, yet Rock's film is itself packed with crude lowest common denominator humour; and are Perry's movies really any worse than Grown Ups? It's ironic that Perry has managed to successfully transition to dramatic roles; perhaps this is the true source of Rock's gripe?



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