Andre Allen (Rock) is a movie star. He transitioned from being a top stand-up act years ago and he is now famous for the role of Hammy The Bear, a violent, machine-gun-wielding, catch-phrase-spouting, cop in a bear-suit. He is also moving into the final phase of a reality show wedding with Erica Long (Gabrielle Union). The film opens with Allen doing media for the opening of his new movie, a serious one this time, called Uprize. He is playing Dutty Boukman one of the leading figures of the Haitian Slave revolt of 1791. Allen is anxious, he wants his movie to succeed, but people in his entourage tell him not to expect too much. Worse still, wherever he goes, fans want to know when the next Hammy picture is coming. And worse than that, some fans want to know when he is going to do stand-up comedy again.
Andre is being pestered for an interview by a writer from The New York Times called Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). He finally agrees to it because another Times writer called James Nielson writes a scathing review of Uprize. Nielson has continually reviewed Allen’s work negatively. Allen hopes that Chelsea Brown is his way to get a positive story in the New York Times. However, Chelsea turns out to be a strong interviewer who has a thorough knowledge of Allen’s work and in her opinion he has been stagnating. She is unimpressed with his new stuff and yet it is seems the two of them have some kind of a mutual attraction.
So they banter and spar in a Hollywood manner for a couple of scenes, until they are both forced to put their cards on the table. Chelsea agrees to ask only non-clichéd questions and Andre agrees to answer them with complete honesty. She tags along on Andre’s day in New York, which includes public appearances, a stint on radio, jewellery shopping for the wedding and a visit with his family. She gets to know more about Andre and he gets to know more about her.
Chris Rock’s Andre Allen is clearly based on his own experiences in show business, however he is unlike Allen in that he hasn’t gone through a “Hammy the Bear” phase. Allen’s questionable choices of film projects resemble the career trajectory of movie star comedians like Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler. Rock himself is more like Dave Chappelle or Louis CK, in that he crafts film and television projects of quality and still maintains his roots in stand-up comedy by continuing to tour live.
Rock also takes the opportunity to cast a comprehensive roster of African American talents in everything from cameos like Taraji P Henson, Gabourney Sidibe playing themselves, through to Romany Malco, Cedric the Entertainer and JB Smoove in supporting roles. Rock’s decision to direct himself in the lead role works. Acting hasn’t come as naturally to Rock as some of his fellow comedians. Here he is the most relaxed he has ever seemed, playing a character who is a lot like himself.
TOP FIVE is a comedy with a little romance thrown into the mix. The fly-on-the-wall approach allows Rock as star, writer and director to show us his view of the world and of show business in particular; therefore many of the scenes ring with the truth of an insider’s observations. Some scenes are straight up funny; others are a blend of goofy and intellectual moments. Rock is on record as saying he feels many film comedies aren’t crafted and that their “architecture is poor”. He cannot be accused of this with this movie.
The movie is a briskly entertaining 102 minute comedy about American show business. It’s about quality versus making a fast buck. It’s also about breaking new ground versus repeating yourself. And it’s also about men and women and poverty and wealth and race in Obama’s America, folks. Rock gets the laughs while touching on an ambitious list of issues that he finds interesting. In some ways he has drawn a coherent story out of the material of his stand-up act and kept the comedy intact. No mean feat. TOP Five is in wide release in Australian cinemas now. The title refers to one’s list of top five rappers. Start formulating yours now. (6/10)