I think Chris Rock is a very talented comedian and actor, but even I was dubious when I saw his attempt at making a Woody Allen-esque comedy. However, it wasn’t as much of a trainwreck as I expected, and while I was hoping for so much more, I thought it was a great film nonetheless.
In the film, Rock (who also wrote and directed the film) plays Andre Allen, a washed up comedic actor who attempts to make something serious. The film follows him over the course of one day, and our guide into the portal of Andre Allen’s life comes in the form of Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), an intelligent and cynical reporter for the New York Times, who is assigned to do a story about Allen (first of all, I initially thought it was a bit too obvious for Rock to name his character Andre Allen, and then go on to say that Woody Allen is one of his idols…but apparently he named his character after his brother Andre, and his grandfather Allen, so I guess that’s sweet enough…but it seems more like a slap-in-the-face reference to Woody Allen and how he was trying to imitate him here). The film tells the story of both characters and how they have beaten alcoholism and gotten to where they are today…which is a place of extreme unhappiness.
The film, much like a Woody Allen film, is composed almost entirely of the “walk and talk” method of dialouge – characters walk up and down the streets of New York, talking about subjects that sometimes verge on the purely philosophical. Its a simple, successful way of making a film, and one that very few get correctly. It isn’t that Rock failed here – he did a great job of imitating the style of Woody Allen, but the film’s dialogue just doesn’t have that nihilistic brilliance that other films do. It seems that Rock tries to talk about the little intricacies of life, but ends up cramming larger-than-reality subjects into the conversations, which doesn’t always work. However, the best part of this film was the writing obviously, and while the directing wasn’t really notable, and the acting good but not groundbreaking, this was truly a writing achievement.
Chris Rock has some gravitas in Hollywood, so he has no problem finding famous friends to pop into his film. Cameos from Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Kevin Hart, Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan and a dozen others feel both exciting…and wasted. I would’ve loved to have seen some of them stick around a little bit more and get something more to do, such as Ben Vereen’s great cameo as Rock’s father, or Tracy Morgan as one of his friends from his early career. Jerry Seinfeld of course is brilliantly funny as always, and actually has quite a substantial amount to do considering his tiny cameo. I am all for star-filled films, but it got quite excessive here and some great performers (such as SNL greats Leslie Jones and Jay Pharoah) were given next to nothing to do.
I thought Top Five was a great film. It was fun and very funny, and an interesting change of pace for Rock. However, it had many flaws, and I just wish it was better. It had potential to be a future classic, but if anything positive comes out of this film, it will be that Chris Rock has gotten a taste of film directing and tries it more often. A good, but not brilliant film.