Chris Rock Pushes ‘Top Five’ onto my Top Ten – Film Review
Some things just don’t compute. The bullying racist exposed in Scott Rudin’s vile Sony-leaks emails to chucklehead CEO Amy Pascal (pick up the phone!) doesn’t align with Rudin’s name as Producer on the credits of Chris Rock’s movie Top Five, a project written, directed and starring an outspoken African American comic that doesn’t dress in drag once on camera. It’s a cultural WTF moment – and Top Five gives Rock (who already conquered Broadway with The Motherf**ker with the Hat) the opportunity to speak truth to power on his own terms in front of, and behind, the camera. Which weighs heavier: a—hole emails or cultural empowerment?
Rock has always jumped right into the middle of American doubletalk, the ways America dissembles on race and sex and class. He is a profane speak truth to power kind of guy that retains some of that underdog, mouthy kid at the back of the class vibe. A recurrent joke in Top Five, which is about a stand-up-turned-movie-star, is someone asking him if he was the class clown in high school. Face it: there was at least one class clown in every high school in America, but there is only one Chris Rock.
The premise of the movie is that Rock, as alter ego Andre Allen, has risen from the New York projects to stand-up to movie star in a series of wildly successful comedies in which he plays Hammy the Bear in full mascot-style costume. After a watershed moment when he got sober with the help of his reality star fiancée (Gabrielle Union), he lost his funny. That led to his making a period epic, Uprize! about the 1791 Haitian revolution. No surprise: the people want more Hammy, less history.
With the breezily beautiful Rosario Dawson, in a smart romantic heroine turn, stepping in as Chelsea Brown, a New York Times reporter doing a day-in-the-life profile of Rock’s Allen, the stage is set for us to unpack the challenges of a stardom not so distance from Rock’s own. When Brown asks that old interviewer’s chestnut – what was your lowest point – Allen responds with a story that turns into a hilarious set-piece with Cedric the Entertainer and a slimy drug-fueled group sex adventure that leaves Allen curled up in a fetal position in a hotel bed that has more wet spots than the Titanic.
While there are many hilarious set pieces – some raunchy, some not – I’m a dialog junkie. I love Rock/Allen’s running commentary about the way America doesn’t fit together according to the “master narrative” we’re fed on the 24/7 news cycle. And, on a molecular level, the way each individual – male/female, black/white, Hammy/Haitian revolutionary – stumbles over their own flaws and foibles, whether they are struggling to stay sober or mired in self-deception or caught in an idea that killing all the white people will set you free.
Top Five is clap-out-loud funny, and Rock breaks through the color line as a hilarious multi-hyphenate finally liberated to play the lead in his own story. Sure, Rock has the capacity to laugh at himself, which makes him relatable to a mass audience. But he also has his barbs aimed at bigger targets: the ways we’ve pissed in the Melting Pot and somehow gotten the America we deserve, where the a-holes like Rudin and Pascal run the asylum. Which is why the Sony-leaks have gotten so much attention: there’s such a gap between how we communicate in emails and our public fronts, and this chasm between who we really are and who we pretend to be is the wellspring of Rock’s humor.
Thelma Adams, Senior Film Editor
December 16, 2014