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Top Five (Chris Rock) - Review

Top Five

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

FOR anyone who has ever suspected that Chris Rock is capable of much better than merely providing voice-overs for the animated Madagascar series or lazy support in woeful Adam Sandler comedies (Grown Ups 1 & 2), then Top Five proves you right.

A passion project that Rock writes, directs and stars in, the film encapsulates the raw, edgy, provocative energy of the star’s stand-up routines, while providing plenty of food for thought in the process.

And while certainly flawed, Top Five has enough in its armoury to make you hope that Rock delivers more of the same in the future.

Rock plays former stand-up comedian turned Hollywood A-list comedy-action star Andre Allen who has reached a crossroads in his life: he wants to be taken seriously and is about to release a film about a slave uprising in Haiti.

Simultaneously, however, he’s about to get married to a reality TV star who is filming the build-up to the ceremony and agrees to be interviewed over the course of a day by an attractive but feisty New York Times journalist (Rosario Dawson) who wants to expose the truth behind the star and his hard-partying past.

The ensuing journey forces Allen to take stock of his life and re-consider his future, leading to some hard soul-searching for both Allen and the journalist conducting the interview.

An exercise in wish-fulfilment as much as it is a semi-autobiographical account of celebrity and its trials and tribulations, Top Five also functions as a scathing dissection of both the media and the public’s insatiable appetite for scandal and celebrity muck-raking.

As such, there are times when the film is absolutely on the money in terms of what it has to say about the futility and shallowness of the whole celebrity package. Yet it can be equally naïve, especially in its depiction of the central relationship between star and journalist, which takes on a kind of fairy-tale element at times.

There’s also a lot of excess – both in terms of language and drink and drug-induced hedonism. Some of the gags are just plain vulgar; while the motor-mouthed verbal exchanges between Allen and the various characters that make up his sorry life sometimes become too loud and too tiring.

Yet in spite of some of its more unsavoury and unconvincing elements, Top Five still manages to remain utterly compelling. And a lot of the credit for this lies with Rock, whose Allen manages to remain likeable in spite of his fallibility, and Dawson, whose journalist provides a genuinely worthwhile adversary with ghosts of her own. Their scenes together have an energy that’s hard to ignore.

Rock also deserves credit as director for maintaining a decent balance between the harder hitting material and the comedy (some of which is genuinely funny), while coaxing good performances from a supporting cast that extends to Tracy Morgan, Jerry Seinfeld, DMX and even Adam Sandler (even if Kevin Hart and Cedric the Entertainer remain as annoying and one dimensional as ever).

Overall, therefore, Top Five is a surprisingly addictive comedy-drama that finds Rock in the best form of his career: fearless, provocative, funny and exposed. It’s an oddly compelling experience.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 102 minutes
UK Release Date: May 8, 2015