Do movies always have to be about something? Do they always contain underlying subtext or cultural references? Or can a movie sometimes be just a movie? Can it just be seen and enjoyed strictly for entertainment? Top Five, written and directed by comedian Chris Rock, wastes no time in raising such questions and many more.
Chris Rock stars in his film as Andre Allen, who like himself is a former stand-up comedian turned movie star. But Allen isn’t in his prime anymore, a fact his agent (Kevin Hart in a hilarious cameo) repeatedly reminds him of. He no longer wishes to make comedy films, due to his newfound sobriety, and is determined to distance himself from the ridiculous (yet sadly realistic) “Hammy the Bear” trilogy that his fans and the media won’t let him forget. Stressed with what appears to be a sham marriage to a Reality TV socialite (Gabrielle Union), Allen just wants to be taken seriously as he promotes his new, more serious movie that is doomed to flop.
Enter Chelsea Brown (the radiant Rosario Dawson), a smart, feisty reporter for the New York Times who wants to do an interview on the struggling comedian. As you might guess, the two bring out the best in each other, causing some of the movie to play out like your typical romantic comedy. But even at its most cliché moments, Top Five manages to stand out as a well acted exposé on the nature of doing what makes you happy. Rock does an outstanding job making the character a likable one. The supporting cast, a who’s who of cameos including Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, and many many more, are all complete delights that either add high laughs or important lessons.
The irony of the earlier questions is that the film itself is both a critique on the nuances of fame and popularity as well as a laugh out loud comedy. Sometimes the best stories are the truest ones. And in this case, Chris Rock’s self referential tale is without a doubt as worthy of a standing ovation as his classic stand ups. It may not make as much money as the low brow, “hammy”-esque comedies commonly shoved in our faces by Hollywood, but Top Five is satisfyingly the first must see comedy of 2014.
P.S…. Andre 3000, Elzhi, Phonte, Kanye West, and J.Cole
FINAL GRADE: A