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. 

Film review: TRANCE, from Built For Speed

Trance, the latest film from Trainspotting director Danny Boyle is a brain-boggling psychological thriller with more than a passing resemblance to Chris Nolan’s Inception.

James McEvoy plays art auctioneer, con-artist and gambling addict, Simon, who steals a priceless painting, Goya’s “Witches Flight”, hoping it will pay off a gambling debt owed to gangster Franck (Vincent Cassel). When the heist goes awry and the injured and amnesiac Simon forgets where he stashed the painting, Franck enlists a hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to delve into Simon’s psyche in the hope of extracting the painting’s whereabouts. The psychological excavation, however, unearths a lot more than anyone expects.

What begins as a compelling thriller reminiscent of Boyle’s acclaimed big screen directorial debut Shallow Grave soon becomes a much more complex beast.  As Elizabeth explores the avenues of Simon’s mind, the film’s characters, their relationships and the world they inhabit soon becomes very murky.  As with Inception it becomes increasingly uncertain if what we’re seeing is real or part of a hypnotic trance.

At first this descent into the psychological rabbit hole is tense, riveting and highly inventive. Unfortunately, the film stretches the bounds of plausibility a little too far.  There are so many detours and sidesteps, Trance seems to forget where it’s going.  We know there’s a problem with a film when a large chunk of time is spent with a character (in this case Elizabeth) trying to spell out what’s going on like Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers movies. As the film’s various layers are peeled away it seems there’s not much at the centre of this story and that it’s mainly an exercise in style over substance.

Still, that style is pretty impressive as Boyle infuses the film with a striking look and sound including sleek, shiny, colour-coordinated production design, clever integration of computer technology and loud, intense pulsating synth music. It is also important to note that the film contains some disturbingly violent images, particularly when Franck’s hoods try to extract a confession from Simon.

Despite the fact that their characters are all wandering around in a confusing psychological labyrinth, the three leads deliver fine performances. McEvoy is believably sneaky and calculating but still sympathetic as the embattled Simon while Vincent Cassel unnerves with his menacing combination of cool intelligence and barely restrained fury.  Best of all though is Rosario Dawson who makes the doctor a convincing mix of clinical professional, feisty heroine and sultry femme fatale.

It’s a clever, intriguing and at times stunning film but someone needed to rein in the scriptwriters as they’ve not just twisted the plot but tied it in a knot.  Consequently Trance is unlikely to gain anything like the response afforded Trainspotting and can probably only expect a cult audience.

Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Danny Boyle

Release date: 4th April 2013

Running time:  101 mins.