Back in his heyday, Chris Rock was one of the funniest comedians around. While he’s still hilarious, he’s stayed out of the spotlight recently — except for his new movie, Top Five, hitting theaters this weekend. And he’s hosted Saturday Night Live and making the talk show rounds. While this isn’t his first foray into filmmaking as writer/director, this is definitely his best. He’s been fantastic in other people’s movies — especially Kevin Smith’s Dogma — but I Think I Love My Wife and Head of State were nowhere near the complete package seen in Top Five. For anyone who’s been missing the funny-man at his best, Top Five sees him reaching for his yesteryears to find validity in the now.
Andre Allen (Rock) is a stand-up comedian who found Hollywood success with a string of Hammy films, playing a bear on a police force. Now, he’s engaged to Bravo reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), while trying to be taken seriously with his new film. He’s stuck between a rock and a hard place because his fans just want to see him star in Hammy 4, and critics aren’t impressed with him playing a Haitian revolutionist in Uprize. Meanwhile, New York Times journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) has been assigned to interview Andre, following him around the streets of New York, where she’s hoping to score an intimate interview with a man battling his own demons — while having a light lit on her own.
Surrounding himself with a cast of new and well-known comedians — everyone from Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, and Tracy Morgan to Jay Pharaoh, Leslie Jones, Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove, and Michael Che — sometimes it feels like a greatest hits collection. But don’t worry, Rock never gets lost in the sea of cameos, and this is Andre Allen’s story first. Rock also makes time for the possibility of finding love in the most unexpected place possible for a celebrity, all while poking fun at what they endure between fans and paparazzi.
Rock may still have not worked out all the kinks in his storytelling ability, but he definitely brings the funny and even provides a welcome sweetness to Top Five. It’s a worthy project for Rock, putting him front and center in a story that lets him be as hilarious as we remember. This is better than just another celebrity vanity project. Top Five may not be the funniest comedy of the year, but Rock has made one of the more surprisingly entertaining ones and the art-imitating-life scenario keeps the jokes flying fast and furious, including a rant about the use of the “N-word” to a Planet of the Apes/Martin Luther King, Jr. conspiracy that are worth admission alone.
Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures