Chris Rock’s name has been synonymous with comedy ever since his early days of stand-up in the 1980s, his years at Saturday Night Live, and his following highly successful film career. His path to success was a steady one and he certainly made some smart moves. He is unapologetic in his routines and he takes stabs at pretty much everyone, with a sharp wit and an intelligent commentary on American society. His new film Top Five (which he wrote, directed, and stars in) is a surprisingly weak entry in the talented comedian’s body of work but it does feature strong scenes and some over-the-top dialogue. Filled with an impressive roster of A-list comedians in cameo roles, it isn’t a total waste.
The film follows Andre Allen (Rock), a successful New York comedian/actor who’s hit a bit of a rough patch. He’s known the world over for playing “Hammy the Bear”, the main character in a goofy cop comedy movie series in which he plays a police officer who goes undercover dressed as a bear. That and his fiance (Gabrielle Union) wants their upcoming wedding to be televised. Typecast and basically stuck in an artistic rut, Allen decides to alter his image by portraying Haitian revolutionary Dutty Boukman in the big screen epic Uprize. This shift in the comedian’s career is seen by his publicist as the right move but others seem to disagree. He then agrees to be interviewed by reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who soon makes Allen come face to face with his past, his successes, and his failures. Obviously, a predictable romance bubbles up between Allen and Brown and together the two encounter ridiculous scenarios and experience all of the usual tropes that define a standard by-the-numbers rom com.
Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tracy Morgan are just a few of the big names to appear in this bloated and overstuffed comedy. Unfortunately, however, with all that star power, Top Five is still a lackluster film with nothing new to offer. Chris Rock seems to be mirroring Woody Allen here by pulling triple duty as actor/writer/director and it seems the seasoned comic has hit something of a creative wall. Top Five is an uninspired mishmash that aspires to be more than it really is. Rock thinks he’s tapped some new territory here but he is strongly mistaken.
The best parts of Top Five would have to be the fine supporting performances. J.B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Millers) is an absolute riot as Allen’s bodyguard/assistant. His over-the-top behavior and unique squeaky voice are always welcome and he steals every scene he’s in. Another highlight is Cedric the Entertainer who also makes every scene he’s in his own. With these ridiculously funnymen doing what they do and with New York City as the backdrop, it really is a shame that Top Five isn’t a better movie. Sure, it has its moments but they are few and far between. This is a film for diehard Chris Rock fans and fans of stand-up in general. The cameos are just terrific especially when you have Jerry Seinfeld in the middle of night club commenting on the party he seems so out of place in and it is with moments like this that make the film somewhat watchable.