Director: Chris Rock
Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, J.B. Smoove, Gabrielle Union
Maybe it’s the influence of co-producers Kanye West and Jay-Z but Top Five feels resolutely hip-hop, despite lacking a rapping protagonist. Chris Rock’s new film channels the vibe of New York streets and modern urban culture, creating a heartfelt comedy that entertainingly slinks along as smoothly as the rich grooves peppering the soundtrack.
On top of writing and directing, Rock stars as comedian-turned-actor Andre Allen, desperate to be taken seriously after a successful trio of blockbuster action-comedies (Hammy The Bear not Birdman, and this is where the similarities end between Top Five and Michael Keaton’s image-changing quest). His waning artistic integrity isn’t helped by his Kardashian-esque fiancé and her plans to make their nuptials the year’s biggest reality TV extravaganza. The story unfolds around Andre and his conversations with Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a New York Times journalist following him through the press-filled release day of his serious new movie.
Sporting a cast list that reads like who’s who of comedians, it’s no surprise that Rock himself is almost comically outplayed by the vast supporting talent on show. J.B. Smoove is predictably hilarious (as anyone who’s seen Curb Your Enthusiasm would expect), Tracey Morgan shines as one of Allen’s childhood friends and a flashback sequence starring Cedric The Entertainer is outrageously funny. Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg and Jerry Seinfeld make notable cameos, though rap fans are likely to find DMX’s quick appearance to be the rip-roaring highlight.
Although Top Five never quite reaches Superbad levels of consistent laughter, the film’s aura is more than enough to keep a smile on the face between its comedic peaks; and while ending disappointingly after an oddly structured final quarter, the irregular pacing throughout never quite drops into full boredom territory. Rock’s writing has a genuine feel, addressing the uncertainties of live as a performer that resonate amongst us all. There’s nothing especially profound on offer here but the general themes are delivered with a warmth and sincerity that demonstrates Rock’s growth as a filmmaker (this is his third project as a writer/director). The mighty Questlove ( drummer/frontman of the Grammy winning The Roots) takes on sonic duties, providing an immense soundtrack brimming with genre-spanning hip-hop classics. Soulful and jazz-inflected original rhythms sit comfortably in the mix as Rock and Dawson walk and talk on Brooklyn corners and Manhattan streets.
The big laughs might border on low-brow, yet Rock’s film is definitely not a broad comedy. It’s fair to say that the average UK viewer is likely to miss some of the more subtle references, as much of the material relies on an audience understanding of US urban culture, but stand-up comedy and hip-hop fans are sure to find a lot to love. It’s like watching the world go by as you listen to a local funk and soul outfit, sitting in a bar with a couple of friends and a whiskey. The joint could be less dingy and the band could be tighter, but there’s a charm to the experience that you just can’t deny.
★ ★ ★ ½
3.5 out of 5 stars
Written by James Excell
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Top Five is on wide release in UK Cinemas now.