Top Five is the latest film from funnyman Chris Rock. Rock, who pulls quadruple-duty here as writer, producer, lead actor and director, assembles an all-star cast in this subversively insightful tale about a comedic actor having a midlife crisis on the eve of the debut of his latest film.
Rock's character is Andre Allen, whose latest film vehicle, a super-serious drama about the Haitian Revolution, is getting savaged in the press. Allen grudgingly agrees to a feature interview with newspaper reporter Chelsea (an adorable Rosario Dawson), who deftly matches wits with the grumpy star as she shadows him throughout an assortment of errands and run-ins. Allen-- four years sober and of working-class roots-- feels burnt-out on the profitable but cringe-inducing "Hammy the Bear" films, where most of his time is spent in a cartoon bear suit carrying automatic rifles. His walkabout with Chelsea manages to bring the two of them closer, which may be alarming to Allen's vapid reality-star fiance' (adeptly played by Gabrielle Union.) As Allen runs a day-long gambit of interactions with family, friends and business associates, he finds himself challenged about the things that are the most important to him.
With the straight-shooting Rock at the helm, Top Five deals head-on with being a successful black man in white Hollywood. Recent real-life embarrassing emails of studio execs inadvertently provide context to several scenarios here, and Rock's legion of supporting players-- including Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric the Entertainer, and Tracy Morgan-- get plenty of mileage from their relatively modest (in length, if not in content) roles.
It would be crass to say that this is a "black version" of what a comedic actor like Louis C.K. or director Woody Allen would come out with. Nonetheless, it wouldn't be far off the mark. It's heavily informed by contemporary African American culture, and presents a wider view of its denizens than some other movies offer. It bears mentioning prominently that this is an adult comedy. Not simply in terms of language, but tone. Here, people actually talk. People are talking throughout the film. It's not a screechy-histrionics and relentless sight-gags-driven comedy vehicle that many black comedic actors are known for-- and no doubt Rock is quite aware of. (Tyler Perry gets a couple of jokey mentions.) That's not to say the film doesn't have it's raunchy parts (viewers will see neither hot sauce nor feminine napkins in quite the same way ever again); it definitely earns its R rating. Still, with lesser material, the film would have been a much more grating experience, even at a brisk 100 minutes. Overall, Rock has created a biting, heartfelt story about the cost of fame; viewers won't be shortchanged.