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Review: Top Five

Top Five
12.11.2014
8 10

PLOT: A day in the life of a successful comedian who, sick of selling out after a series of terrible (though lucrative) movies, goes on the promotion trail in New York for his new film, a "serious drama" about the Haitian Revolution. Along the way he deals with his spoiled reality star wife, goes back to his old neighborhood, and falls in love with the reporter writing a profile on him.

REVIEW: Andre Allen is sick of being called "Hammy." Not hammy as in ridiculously over-the-top, but as in Hammy the Bear, a talking bear-cop he's played in three uber-successful films. Allen, who began as a stand-up and became an enormous movie star, is ready for the next phase of his career; that place where almost all comedians go when they've done one too many Hammys: the serious role. For his serious role, Allen is tackling the part of a leader of the Haitian Revolution in an AMISTAD-like epic called UPRIZE, which he's sure will be his ticket out of the schlocky rut he's found himself in. Allen will now have to contend with a dubious media on his press tour for the film, while also revisiting his humble beginnings in New York City while his fiancee plans a wedding back in L.A.

Written, directed by and starring Chris Rock, TOP FIVE is part personal autobiography, part Woody Allen romance, part Rock stand-up routine, part love-letter/hate-mail to the entertainment industry. Yes, it's a lot of things, and these parts don't always fit into a comfortable whole, but Rock's evident passion for all these disparate elements lends TOP FIVE an infectious energy. Rock has a thing or two to say here, and he has funny ways to say them, and while the film falls short of being a startling confessional, it's still has all the hallmarks of a life's work. Rock has likely been wanting to impart the anecdotes and ideas within the film for many years now, and they come not with furious anger but a sly (and sometimes humble) smile.

TOP FIVE has a free-flowing style reminiscent of a stand-up act; we see Allen give a series of lame interviews with media outlets who either just want to talk about Hammy the Bear or his pending nuptials to a bratty reality star (Gabrielle Union); we watch as he visits the old homestead and interacts with old friends who refuse to let him forget where he came from (Tracy Morgan shines as a drunkenly bitter former pal). Most importantly, we listen in on a series of conversations between Allen and Chelsea (luminous Rosario Dawson), a journalist accompanying him on hectic day. With Chelsea, Allen lets his guard down, as the two share plenty in common (not the least of which is the fact they're both recovering alcoholics).

Anyone who has seen a movie knows where this is going; Andre will fall for Chelsea and rethink his entire life during the span of one day; the only question is whether or not Rock will allow for the happy ending or the pragmatic one. The surprising thing about TOP FIVE overall is that it's not afraid of sentimentality or sweetness, perhaps something of a progression for the normally cynical Rock. He allows the romance between Andre and Chelsea to meet most of the necessary requirements of a romantic comedy, and still keeps the movie feeling edgy and, at times, raunchy. (Plenty of hard R-rated humor here, don't worry.)

On the other side, Rock's film certainly flirts with seriousness and has a handful of heartfelt things to say about success and depression in showbiz, but it never goes too far into the dark side, thus it avoids bringing down its audience. Rock is keenly aware of the pitfalls of presenting us with a "boo hoo I'm wealthy and famous" whine-fest; TOP FIVE is anything but self-flagellating or pretentious.

Rock has populated the film with a ton of familiar faces; he obviously called in more than a few favors. I almost don't want to spoil some of the names who show up, because they're meant to be surprises, but I'll highlight a few: there's a great little turn by Cedric the Entertainer as a perverted Texan Andre meets on the road in a flashback; man, what a sequence this is! Kevin Hart has a funny cameo as Andre's hyperactive agent, while JB Smoove is his lovable self as Andre's confidant and "bodyguard." Really, though, you won't want to look away from Rosario Dawson's face, which is so rich and full of life that the entire movie lights up whenever she's on screen. Chelsea is a great part for the actress, who for some reason doesn't receive nearly enough of them. Rock has found his footing as a director, and maybe he's also found his muse.

Source: JoBlo.com

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