Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson & Gabrielle Union
Written & Directed by: Chris Rock
While it might be an overstatement to call “Top Five” a hip-hop homage to Woody Allen’s well-received comedic films of the 1970s, there is little doubt about his influence in Chris Rock’s new film, “Top Five.” Allen is known for starring, writing, and directing his movies, and that is what Rock is doing in this, his most personal film to date.
Like most of Woody’s films, this one is shot entirely in New York City (Rock even visits Brooklyn and Queens which is something Woody would never do!) There is a lot of Woody-esque observational humor (however a lot of it is sexual in nature and far more risque than Allen ever delved into). Finally, Chris Rock’s character is a comic named Andre Allen and I have to assume that the choice of that surname is not a coincidence.
In a final nod to Woody, Rock’s character is a popular standup comedian who has tired of telling jokes in bandbox nightclubs and wants instead to be taken seriously as an artist who doesn’t need to hear laughter from the crowd.
The film opens with Andre, trying to promote his first dramatic leading role in a film, going to Sirius XM’s studios for marathon Q&A sessions with jocks from their various stations. He quickly follows that up with a press junket that is incredibly realistic as Rock gives cameos to real life film critics, Neil Rosen of NY1 and the Boston Herald’s Stephen Schaefer, and has an actress brilliantly play an unsmiling film company publicist who sourly intones, “Two minutes!” as if she’s an NFL referee warning the press about the precious little time that they have remaining to talk to the high and mighty talent. These are small details, and may seem a bit “too inside baseball” for the public, but it shows the degree to which Rock goes here to get the little things realistic and right.
To help burnish Andre’s image, his manager (Kevin Hart), contacts a fictional New York Times reporter, Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), to interview him by following him around a 24-hour period. Andre is initially skeptical because he has been burned by its mysterious chief arts critic, James Nielsen, but ultimately relents. The dynamics between Brown and Allen help shape this film and it’s a pleasure watching the on-screen chemistry between Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson.
In an intriguing subplot, Andre is scheduled to marry in three days a shallow reality TV series diva named Erica Long (brilliantly played by Gabrielle Union) whose every move in life is dictated by executives of cable’s Bravo network. Bravo has become one of the most profitable segments of Comcast’s broadcast and cable portfolio for its low-cost and generally low-IQ shows (although I have to admit a fondness for Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens” which is basically a tongue-in-cheek look at the network’s offerings) that generate sky-high ratings. It’s surprising that Bravo allowed its name and logo to be used here since Comcast owns Universal Studios while Paramount, the distributor of “Top Five,” is owned by rival media conglomerate Viacom.
The dialog about celebrity and pop culture is surprisingly fresh considering that the terrain has been covered many times before.
“Top Five” is an R-rated film and it certainly earns that letter and more. Chris Rock pushes the envelope both in terms of ribald language and raunchy sex scenes that one could only have seen and heard in porn films not so long ago. It will be hard to watch Cedric the Entertainer on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” without thinking of his bacchanalia scene in this movie.
In case you are wondering, the title “Top Five,” refers to Andre Allen asking various characters throughout this film who their favorite hip-hop artists of all-time are.
Without having seen a list of the films released in 2014 there is a very good chance that this one will make my top five.