Romantic comedies are an art; or they're a gluttonous, disposable, sickly serving of something that you're going to regret and forget. Top Five is Chris Rock's latest slice of personal comedy, except New York is the stage and echoes of Woody Allen, Louie C.K, Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld abound. Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is at a career crossroads. The once king of stand-up has abandoned the stage for a series of lacklustre blockbusters and is desperate to elevate his acting career to serious dramatic ventures. With a flop waiting to be released, being puppeted through a wedding to reality T.V star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) he's lost. When an interviewer for the New York Times, Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), asks Allen to get real he has 24 hours to decide what his future has in store.
Rock does a tremendous job as the triple threat, starring, writing and directing proceedings, and the passion just drips off every part of the project. Rock's Allen feels like an outlet for Rock to chew through some real authentic issues. As we begin Allen is shrouded in nonsense; fans obsessed with his simpleton broad comedies, people infuriated apathetic to more serious pursuits and the circus of being the fashion accessory to a celebrity machine. When he's making a mockery of his character's attempt to be serious and in the moments that he's bouncing off of the amazing and fun cast he's assembled Rock shines.
Rock's comedic and directing sensibilities are shown off the most in the distinct moods and modes that he goes to for each new segment of the film. Cedric the Entertainer's brief participation in a flashback to Allen's past is Sandler/Happy Madison level filthy sexual deviance that wants some levity in the moments that he's revealing the character's 'rock bottom' (no pun intended). As the camera traces Andre and the beautiful Chelsea strolling through the New York streets answering the uncomfortable questions it's as direct an homage to Woody Allen's Manhattan or Annie Hall as you'd hope for. While the transition from his real life celebrity friends playing exaggerated or ridiculous versions of themselves at a bachelor party to a surprise visit to New York's Comedy Cellar (the setting for the opening of Louie C.K's LOUIE) feels like it's just more than sharing a friend's frequent hang as it does a tip of the hat.
The moments that seem to have an undeniable kinetic energy are those where they visit his family. Comedic performers Sherri Shepard, Tracey Morgan, Hassan Johnson and Leslie Jones all destroy in minor roles as Allen's family and oldest friends. They're quick to admit that he's the least naturally funny member of the family and that they doubt since he's committed to sobriety that he's anywhere near as funny as he was in his early career. Dawson's Chelsea is a great contrast and challenge to Allen's perception of himself.
Top Five is a culmination of writer/director Chris Rock's influences and inspirations.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Chris Rock Written by: Chris Rock Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, J.B. Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Romany Malco, Cedric the Entertainer, Sherri Shepard, Tracey Morgan, Hassan Johnson, Leslie Jones, Kevin Hart,