Hollywood has tried with Chris Rock. Though he remains one of the greatest standups in the business, most of his cinematic output is lacking, and he’s never made a great leading man (I might be inclined to argue that his finest on screen role was in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka). But it seems that the success of Louis C.K. and his show Louie has transformed how many stand ups approach making their own movies and television shows, and C.K. is a likely inspiration for Rock’s latest effort Top Five. Playing a version of himself, Rock confronts success and romance from a new angle, and though the film has moments, it never finds truth even if it delivers some laughs.
Rock stars as Andre Allen, who comes across as an amalgamation of Rock, Eddie Murphy, Chris Tucker, and more, who is a former stand-up that wants to transition into dramatic work only. This is fueled by his sobriety; he’s been off the sauce for four years. His latest film, Uprize, is about to open and he’s also about to get married to reality star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) and to help promote his new movie he’s going to do a long form interview with New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), though he’s reticent because the Times has aggressively panned most of his films. But Chelsea gets to ride along with Andre and his bodyguard Silk (J.B. Smoove) as they prepare for his bachelor party and finish his junket process for the film.
Andre’s relationship with Chelsea starts combative, though she tries to wear him down by introducing him to her child, and by telling him a modern version of Cinderella that her daughter figured out. She finds out about when he hit bottom when on a bender in Texas, where he meets Jazzy Dee (Cedric the Entertainer), parties heavily and ends up arrested. She also gets to meet his family, who razz him for his success, and his ex-girlfriend (Sheri Shepherd) who has spent every day feeling terrible that she broke it off. But mostly they just riff as Chelsea tries to get into his head. She also has a boyfriend (Anders Holm), though that relationship falls apart as the movie goes along, while the fact that Erica is a reality show star doesn’t make her seem like much of an obstacle. Famous people (like Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan and Adam Sandler) also litter the film in smaller roles.
Rock wants to pursue truth, and though one gets the feeling that much of the outlining elements are on point (like how junketing a movie is tedious, as are most interviews, and that being successful means that people are constantly trying to get your picture or money from you), the character that Dawson plays is less well thought out than Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State. Andre has walked away from comedy and stand up because it’s something he only did while under the influence, and he needs to be pushed to return to what he’s best at, and that’s the moral of the story. As such, Dawson’s character is mostly a sounding board who changes roles to best suit conflict and doesn’t have any agency. The most distinctive thing about her performance is that she is sporting the partly shaved head look that is a fashion moment that will hopefully go away soon, and I say that as someone who loves her work.
Rock, as the writer and director, also doesn’t completely commit to some of his ideas. The fake movie Uprize never comes across as a real thing, and if it was a film made, it seems way more interesting than what Rock uses as a punchline. That doesn’t sit well, nor does his hit movie series, which is less believable than The Fatties franchise featured in Tropic Thunder. If you’re making a heightened parody film, these sort of things wouldn’t be as noticeable, but when you’re trying to tell something that taps into something real, they ruin that illusion. And it’s the relationships with women where the film feels most lacking. Union gets to deliver a great speech about blow jobs, and there’s something interesting there, but because of how she’s introduced, there’s no dimension to her character so you can never be too invested in their relationship. She’s an obstacle, and Rock never figures out how to make her credible. Because Rock is a funny man, there are some jokes and observations that land, but he never gets to the raw moments of someone like Louis C.K. or Richard Pryor at their best. Maybe it’s because Rock’s comedy is more observational than personal. But then both C.K. and Rock are drawing from Woody Allen. But Allen took years to become a more personal filmmaker, and developed his directing chops along the way, something that can also be said of C.K. I suspect Rock might have a great film in him, but though there are laughs throughout Top Five, it comes across as a baby step.
Paramount’s Blu-ray comes with a DVD and digital copy, while the film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1), and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio in a solid transfer. The film comes with a commentary track by Rock and Smoove, but they mostly praise the actors, and walk through the film. There are two making of’s “It’s Never Just a Movie: Chris Rock and Top Five” (20 min.) and a “The Making of Top Five” (10 min.), which recycle some comments from each other. They mostly highlight the cast and point out the new direction Rock wants to take his career. “Top Five Andre Allen Standup Outakes” (6 min.) feature some good Rock comedy, while “Top Five Moments You Didn’t See in the Film” (4 min.) highlight the supporting players. There are also three deleted scenes (4 min.), with best featuring Rock reciting the lyrics of N.W.A. to Charlie Rose.