Mark Reviews Movies

Top Five

TOP FIVE

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Chris Rock

Cast: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Cedric the Entertainer, J.B. Smoove, Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart, Anders Holm, Jay Pharaoh, Michael Che, Sherri Shepherd, Leslie Jones, Brian Regan, Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler 

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 12/12/14


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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 11, 2014

"Everything has a deeper meaning," says writer/director Chris Rock's character in the first scene of Top Five. It's the first line of dialogue we hear from anyone, and for the film's star, writer, and director to make the statement points to, well, a deeper meaning to the statement. Then again, it's followed immediately by the obvious counterpoint. The journalist assigned to interview Rock's character argues that sometimes a thing—a book, a song, or even (wink, wink) a movie—is just what it is and nothing more. Whose word do we take on the subject?

This will all depend on how much stock—if any—one wants to put into seeing the film as a confessional from its creator. Some of it, we have to assume, is. Rock plays Andre Allen, a stand-up comedian who became a movie actor. Andre had early and quick success in his movie career, starring in a series of three very successful movies as a wisecracking cop who happens to be a bear. It's little wonder that Andre wants to put that stage of his career behind him. The checks were probably sizeable. The fame he obtained by playing the role—even while hidden in a bear suit—is apparent.

It must try an actor's soul to want to send his career in a different direction, only to be met with people clinging to the thing that made the actor's career. It must crush the soul of an actor, though, to have people shouting the name of a wisecracking bear at him on the day his movie about a slave rebellion in Haiti opens.

Andre's agent (Kevin Hart) wants it on the record that he warned his client about the choice, and he has a point. To go from joking around in a bear costume to playing the leader of a bloody rebellion is an abrupt shift. These things need a little time to breathe in the mind of the public, which is still obsessed with asking inane questions of the movie star ("Were you the class clown in school?").

Rock's career isn't an exact parallel to Andre's, but then again, he did go from the sidekick/comic movie star/voice of animated animals to adapting an Eric Rohmer film. It's not a stretch to see a hint of professional autobiography here. Consideration of the things in Andre's personal life is better left to speculation—and best left untouched.

The film follows Andre in New York City on the day his new movie opens. He is engaged to Erica (Gabrielle Union), who stars in a reality TV show about her life as someone who is famous for being the star of a reality TV show about her life. Andre is uncomfortable with the arrangement. It's not quite clear if that is more a matter of having television cameras constantly pointed at him and his fiancée or of seeing her in a different light because of the hollow fame she enjoys.

The central relationship, though, is between Andre and Chelsea (Rosario Dawson), the reporter who counters his statement about meaningful significance in all things. She wants an honest interview with the man, while everyone else participating in the publicity tour for the movie wants to ask silly or counterproductive questions of the movie star. They ask him if he's going play the bear cop again. She asks him why he believes he can't be funny anymore. They ask about his legal troubles because they're sensationalistic. She asks about the time he hit rock bottom because she has a four-year coin from AA, too.

Rock's screenplay is, at least superficially, framed around a day-in-the-life conceit. Within that structure, though, the film has a lot to say about the nature and perils of fame, and it does so with Rock's observant and caustic humor.

Andre suffers through montages of interviews with people who have little interest in his work but a lot in his public persona. When they do get to the topic of the movie, he has to deal with the barely concealed racism of questions about how many white people are killed in this movie about a uprising against slave owners (His response, pointing out that the anger about the depiction of killing in a movie is misguided compared to real-world killing, is spot-on). He remembers people asking him for favors or financial investments and is later confronted by his father, who jokingly calls him "Hollywood" but needs money. The new movie is failing at the box office, and a billboard for it has a review quote that is praise of the most damning kind.

The comic and emotional centerpiece of the film is a flashback sequence in which Andre recalls for Chelsea the moment he realized his alcoholism had become a problem. It climaxes with a different kind of climax on the part of the owner of entertainment company (Cedric the Entertainer), who has arranged for a pair of prostitutes to visit Andre's hotel room. Of course, the timeline of his version of arriving at sobriety doesn't quite coincide with reality. The real story is far less outrageous and far more pathetic. It's all an attempt to give himself the appearance of having more control over his life than he believes he possesses.

The film moves from scene to scene without an obvious structure, and at times, it feels like a gathering of friends and colleagues improvising scenes for the sake of doing so. Even so, there is a conceptual fluidity to Top Five that reaches much deeper. Whether or not we learn anything about Rock's fears and insecurities is irrelevant, because we do learn a lot about Andre's. That's more than enough, because sometimes a movie is just what it is.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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