Film review: TOP FIVE, from ‘Built For Speed’

It seems to be the year for comedians making semi-biographical films. We’ve had Carl Barron with Manny Lewis and now the much more obscene and inventive Top Five written and directed by and starring Chris Rock.

Clearly drawing on his life and career, Rock plays much-loved but artistically unfulfilled stand-up comedian turned actor, Andre Allen. After making a bundle in an awful franchise called Hammy the Bear, Andre has tried to establish some cred as a serious actor with a film about a Haitian slave uprising. Unfortunately for Andre no one cares about his latest film as they’re more interested in a Hammy resurrection and Andre’s upcoming marriage to a trashy reality TV star (Gabriel Union).

The pampered movie star complaining about their life and how tough it was to give up gruelling club gigs for a gigantic pay cheque and a mansion is a hard sell. We ‘Average Joes’ get that the loss of privacy is annoying but it’s hard to argue that fame and fortune isn’t more than adequate compensation. As with Birdman, when watching Top Five there’s a voice in the back of our minds saying ‘shut up your rich’ which tends to undercut the film’s attempt at edgy satire.

Putting that aside, this film also suffers from the fact that it isn’t particularly funny.  There are a few amusing lines and Chris Rock’s delivery is always a riot but alot of the humour involves disappointingly predictable bodily function and sex jokes.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its moments. It’s peppered with welcome if not always hilarious cameos from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer and best of all DMX who in the film’s funniest scene, serenades Andre during a stint in the lock-up.  Rock as director also creates a bubbling energy as the film tracks him during his strange odyssey across the course of a day.

Top Five is also immersed in contemporary African American culture with favourite hip-hop artists a thread running through the film. The title refers to the game in which characters list their top five rappers.

The most successful aspect of the film is the chemistry between Rock and Rosario Dawson who plays a journalist trailing him for the day.  Dawson seems to make a habit of elevating lesser films with her compelling mix of charm and street smarts.

This is not a particularly cinematic film and with its digital video look, low key tone and liberal use of obscenities making it seem more like a lengthy HBO pilot.  As a comedy this film might amuse 14-year-olds more than adult audiences but as an insight into Chris Rock’s mindset and as a smart romance it impresses.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Comedy/ drama.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Chris Rock.

Release date: 12th March 2015

Running time: 102 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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