“That’s that Hollywood shit, Andre. That’s the Hollywood shit.”
As an actor, Chris Rock has always been an awesome stand up comedian. It’s inevitable when someone gets to his level in the stand up world that movie offers will come in. The only problem is, not every comedian can act. When Chris Rock is delivering dialogue, he can be amazing, because he treats like stand up. But when other characters are speaking, he always has a deer in the headlights look. You can almost hear his thoughts screaming, “Act like you’re listening! Act like you’re listening! Is it time for my next line yet? Act like you’re listening!”
But when I heard that he had written, directed and starred in a movie about a former standup comedian and former movie star trying to become a serious artist, I put all my concerns about his acting chops aside. Chris Rock writing a movie so clearly modeled on himself, but with enough distance to really pull the piss, sounded like something I had to see. Which I did, with Top Five.
Andre Allen (Rock) has just written, directed and starred in a movie about a Haitian slave revolution. On the day of the movie’s release, word of mouth isn’t good. So Allen embarks on a publicity blitz across New York, with a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson as Chelsea) along for the ride as she writes her own profile of this quickly falling star.
Flashing back and forth, to and from that day, we get Allen’s past, from his rise as a stand up superstar, to the star of the terrible looking Hammy the Bear franchise, to his descent into alcoholism and his current struggles to find legitimacy as a serious artist. Populated with an amazing cast of black Hollywood’s funniest actors, the world of Andre Allen includes con men, pimps and drug dealers (all in one character played by Cedric the Entertainer), friends from the old neighbourhood (Tracy Morgan) and high end management and agents (JB Smoove and Kevin Hart).
I don’t know how closely this mirrors Rock’s frustrations and regrets with his own career, but if it is in any way close to the truth, cudos to Rock for making his character a bit of a dick. And not just in a showbiz asshole way that would be so easy to make fun of in a story like this. But in a fundamental, real person way. Andre Allen is judgmental and petty and selfish. And every time Top Five indulges in those terrible aspects of its main character is when it Top Five finds it funniest and most real moments.
It would be easy to look at the synopsis for this movie and write it off as a self indulgent, mid life crisis for its writer, director and star. And who knows, maybe that’s exactly how it started. But with Top Five Chris Rock has made a really funny, really believable story about a fully formed character. Even if it is a thinly disguised version of himself.