Top Five (2014) [Review]

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A comedian tries to make it as a serious actor when his reality-TV star fiancée talks him into broadcasting their wedding on her TV show.

Chris Rock’s stand-up is unique and highly rated, the complete opposite of his film career to date. Which is why when watching Top Five you can’t help but think there is a huge amount of himself on display here, as a comedian trying to shake the confines of films he has previously starred in for something more serious. The irony is in this instance, is that this film is far from serious. It’s funny for the most ridiculous reasons.

Rock goes back to what he is good at, which is making people laugh on his own. It’s crude humour, and perhaps you need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Think of it as a Louie episode crossed with Birdman, the sort of self-analysis combined with a subtle but scathing attack on the insanity of entertainment expectations and reality TV. And maybe the odd dig at Tyler Perry.

However, some will argue that the humour doesn’t nearly reach the heights of Louie, nor does it hold the sophistication and depth that Birdman showed – and they would be right, but the intention is there. The humour is crass, and it makes sense to have someone like Anders from Workaholics have a brief cameo in it one of its more grotesquely wacky segments, because that level of immaturity is what has made their TV show so successful, and it is segments like that which made this film funnier than expected.

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A lot of people will be put out by that though – “It’s not clever, or original, he used the ‘n’ word a lot etc“. To those I say, do not watch it. I do not know what you expected from this movie. If you were looking for a sort of Woody Allen style New York romance then you are sorely mistaken, and the closest you will get to it is Chris Rock’s characters surname, that of ‘Allen’.

It is not all laughs though. While constantly trying to promote his new image, his new film and avoid conforming to what the public and the media want him to be, he takes on a role of troubled boyfriend about to get married battling with his own personal demons. There is an attempt at depth to the characters here, and you can be fooled into thinking that perhaps it will go somewhere, but any dawning realisation regarding any personal choice is usually undercut by something ridiculous as DMX singing in a jail.

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Rosario Dawson’s role as a reporter for the NY Times, helped to dilute the deluge of jokes and rants. As infantile as some of these jokes were, the welcomed patter between the two leads was enjoyable to watch. This was largely down to the brief debates they would have such as “Did Planet of the Apes lead to MLK’s death?” among other topics that effortlessly flowed back and forth as if their two characters were experiencing for the first time, someone on their wavelength, someone they could actually have an intelligent conversation with and someone they felt challenged by.

Dawson and Rock are joined by a wealth of cameos; Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric The Entertainer, but these all play second fiddle to the two leads, and even then this feels like it is Rock’s film, indirectly about himself. The names aren’t heavily advertised, but it does just feel like he is getting his mates in the movie for sake of it.

It’s extremely easy to watch, but you need to take it with a pinch of salt. I didn’t expect the world, or something as subtle as Louie, but I did expect to laugh and remain interested. And I did. It’s a solid film, sharp script, well shot, great cast, and it has a lot going for it. But as Rock says in the film, “lower your expectations”… do that, and you’ll enjoy it. Go in with a stick up your ass, expect to be offended and something along the lines of Grown Ups, then you will hate it.

FYI, my top 5;

De La Soul
Nas
Wu-Tang Clan
Souls of Mischief
Outkast

What’s yours?

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