Top Five is being
hailed, quite rightly, as Chris Rock’s breakthrough movie as an actor-auteur;
it’s also a lot of fun to watch. Rock effortlessly embodies a character who has
enjoyed great popularity as a comedy star but now wants to be taken seriously.
The action takes place in the course of one long, eventful
day in New York City as his new movie (Uprize!,
about a slave revolt in Haiti) is opening. He’s juggling promotional
appearances and plans for his upcoming televised wedding to a reality-show star
(Gabrielle Union), stopping by the projects to visit his family, and
reluctantly allowing a reporter for The
New York Times (Rosario Dawson) to follow him around for a profile she’s
Rock artfully blurs the lines between real-life and fiction,
opening with a Charlie Rose interview, staging a faux press roundtable with
actual movie-junket journalists, and hanging out with such pals as Jerry
Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, and Whoopi Goldberg. He also makes great use of
locations all over Manhattan, allowing his camera to follow him and Dawson from
high-end Fifth Avenue shops to the streets of Greenwich Village and beyond
without ever calling undue attention to the process.
Rock has always been funny, but here he attempts to create a
more believable and empathetic character. The device of him opening up to
Dawson allows us to get inside his head a bit—and she makes the most of her
role. A visit to see his family (including the wonderfully funny Tracy Morgan
and, in a telling scene, Ben Vereen) is as enlightening as a flashback to what
he calls his lowest moment, living the high/low life with promoter Cedric the
Entertainer in Houston. JB Smoove is another asset to the film as Rock’s
boyhood pal who now serves as his handler.
Woody Allen is clearly a major influence on Rock, although Top Five isn’t any more realistic or
genuinely revealing than Annie Hall or Stardust Memories. Yet, like those
films, this one does say a lot about Chris Rock’s sensibilities and his view of
fame and its trappings, both good and bad. It’s a definite transition for the
comedian and a welcome one at that. I’ll be eager to see what he does next.