Movie Review: “Top Five”

Starring
Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, JB Smoove, Kevin Hart
Director
Chris Rock

“Top Five” has a secret: the movie’s “B” story is about sobriety, and the struggles many entertainers have with capturing the magic that came so easily to them when they were high. You can see why the studio would downplay that in the ads, because there is nothing funny about sobriety. As it turns out, the movie is plenty funny even with the heavier subject matter. It paints with a broad brush, and it’s clear how things are going to end within the first five minutes, but the journey is nonetheless entertaining, and at times wildly funny.

Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is a former standup comic who wants to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. His new film, which covers the Haiti Massacre of 1804 (!), comes out the same weekend that Andre is scheduled to marry his reality TV star fiancée Erica (Gabrielle Union) on live television. Andre does a ton of press to promote the movie (where nearly everyone berates him for not being funny anymore), but while he’s hopping from junket to junket, he has an all-day assignment with New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). Andre is suspicious of her because one of Chelsea’s colleagues has made a career out of savaging Andre in the press, but he and Chelsea develop a rapport, and before long, Andre opens up about when he hit rock bottom (there are no words to describe that scene). Now sober for four years, Andre still finds himself tempted, especially when Erica is changing aspects of their wedding, per the network’s instructions, without informing him.

There is no version of this story that ends with, “And the man married the shallow, soulless, talentless harpy, and the two lived happily ever after,” so it should surprise no one that it doesn’t happen here, either. That’s part of the problem, though: the deck is stacked so heavily against Erica that it’s not even a fair fight. This is no doubt so Rock, who both wrote and directed “Top Five,” could make fun of reality stars (and we have no issue with that), but Chelsea is so much more likable than Erica that it becomes almost comical, the bad kind of comical. Given what is at stake for Andre if he doesn’t go through with the wedding, this should be a more difficult decision for him than it is.

Rock and his script are at their best when he’s telling stories and jokes, naturally. The aforementioned rock bottom sequence is equal parts hilarious and foul, and the scene where Andre takes Chelsea to meet his old friends probably has two hours of outtakes on the cutting room floor, as the room is loaded with “SNL” talent (Tracy Morgan, Jay Pharoah and newcomer Leslie Jones, who wipes the floor with all of the guys in the room). Both of those bits, though, pale in comparison to Chelsea’s story about her ex-boyfriend, which is, well, not the kind of thing you usually see in a movie. Rock inserts some nice plot developments, but there isn’t much flow to his script. It may have all of the right beats, but the problem is they feel like beats, mandatory events in order to advance the plot.

It’s impossible to imagine this movie without Rosario Dawson. Heck, Rock himself could be replaced relatively easily, but Dawson, no chance. She is the perfect foil for Andre: she’s smart, pretty, she stands up to him, and as a convenient side plot, she’s also been sober for four years. Rock is, well, Rock, and there really isn’t much else to add – he’s being himself, and that is exactly what the movie needs. The only other performance of note is Cedric the Entertainer, the man responsible for Andre’s rock bottom moment. There are several cameos in the final act, but only one of them rings true, and it’s too good to spoil.

“Top Five” is a curious choice for a holiday movie, but then again, it has no natural predators, as it were, at the box office, which bodes well for its success. The script could have used another polish, but the film overall is a marked improvement over his previous directorial efforts. You’ll probably sleep on the floor the next time you have to stay in a hotel, though.

  

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