Monday, December 15, 2014

Film Review: Chris Rock's Top Five

One of the first lines spoken in Chris Rock's Top Five, is when a character exclaims, "Sometimes a movie is just a movie." I suppose this statement rings true, but it surely is not the case with this film. Top Five is one of the freshest comedies to come down the pike in a long long time. Taking on the idea of celebrity and today's media culture, as well as race relations, Rock's film is mostly about the loss of self-reliance in a creative person's abilities. Rock, who is one of the smartest, funniest comics around today, is also quite versed in film history. His second film as director, I Think I Love My Wife, was a remake of Eric Rohmer's French New Wave film, Chloe in the Afternoon. With his third swipe at the writer/director role, Rock takes on territory once occupied by Woody Allen, most notably the auteur's 1980 film, Stardust Memories. Just like in that film, Rock's stand-up comic turned movie star wants to stop making comedies, and try his hand at a more serious oeuvre, and just like in that film, Rock is constantly told that his fans prefer his funnier movies. Even Rock's name in the film, Andre Allen, can be seen as an homage to the films of Woody.

Of course, it may be an odd combination. One of the wittiest critics on racial relations in today's society, playing in the same narrative pool as a man who is not exactly known for his cinematic racial equality. But nonetheless, the combination is there. But really, Top Five is not necessarily a film about racism. Sure, there are many lines and even discussions in the film about the likes of President Obama, Tupac, black men hailing a cab in New York, even the racial overtones of The Planet of the Apes, but this film is not about race so much as it is race itself. Rock is not necessarily making a statement on race today, but instead making a film that is all about race while also not being a bout race. Pretty clever move if you ask this critic. But this film isn't for the critic, which is pretty evident with Rock's regular critic bashing in the film. Instead, this is pure and simple, a funny movie. A damn funny movie. Telling the story of a once successful comedy actor (Andre's Hammy the Bear character, who he is trying to leave behind, can be seen as analogous to Rock's animated zebra in the Madagascar franchise) trying to go the serious route, after cleaning up his act and getting sober, and the actor's array of problems, piling higher and higher, Top Five is actually more than mere comedy, but at its very heart and soul, it is all about comedy.

Rock gathered together the elite of the comedy world for his film. To name just a few, there is Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, Kevin Hart, Jay Pharoah, Sherri Shepherd, J.B. Smoove, and in one of the funniest over-the-top performances of the year, Cedric the Entertainer. There are also some pretty fun uncredited cameos near the end as well. The main crux of the film though, is Andre and NYT journalist, Chelsea Brown, played b y Rosario Dawson, as they travel around the city (not only Woody Allen-like, but also in much the same way Richard Linklater had Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy wander around Paris) playing cat and mouse interview games. Toss in a reality show wedding extravaganza being put on by Andre's Bravo reality star wife-to-be (Gabrielle Union, in a surprisingly sympathetic role) and a pair of quite intriguing flashback sequences, and you have Top Five. A film that is about race and not about race. A film that is about comedy but not about comedy. A film that, no matter how deep some of its passing ideas run, is, pure and simple, a damn funny movie. And I think that is what Rock was going for. But then again, what the hell do I know. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.