Chris Rock has said on talk shows that his movie Top Five – about a stand-up comedian named Andre Allen trying to promote his “serious” film – is his make-it or break-it effort to be a director. I’m afraid I have to give him mixed grades. He knows “funny,” that’s for sure, but I was left mystified as to why he had to load up the script with unrelenting misogyny, too frequent homophobia, and a squeamishness about sex that drifted into ridicule. Rock’s character’s entire spectrum of fantasy started and ended with a blow job and it seemed like anything sexual outside of that was considered ugly.
On the plus side, the movie is fast-paced, well-shot, and laugh-out-loud in parts, not the least when we get insight into the life of a black celebrity, such as when a producer is trying to get Andre Allen to do miracles with a promotional line of dry prose. Chris Rock is supported by Rosario Dawson as Chelsea, his love interest, and JB Smoove, who distinguishes himself as the loyal childhood homey, Silk, who continues to look after him. Dawson does her best with a script that limits how real she can be as a New York Times journalist by framing her character around her boyfriend and her major crush on her subject, Andre Allen. The camera loves Dawson, so we got a lot of close-up face time. Chelsea is a ubiquitous presence as she is following Andre for a day to research a feature on him for the Times.
Andre Allen’s fiancée Erica is played by Gabrielle Union. She’s a Kim Kardashian kinda reality star who believes that if it ain’t on television, it doesn’t exist. When Andre takes Chelsea back to his neighborhood and childhood friends and family, Allen hears from his peeps that they haven’t been invited to the wedding. The producers are making all the decisions, his fiancée informs him, including changing the wedding rings Andre had bought.
Top Five is also a people-puzzle in which there are so many cameos that one regrets that opening credits went out of style decades ago. Too often I couldn’t put a name to a familiar face until the closing credits rolled. The film is peppered with appearances from Cedric the Entertainer, Sherri Shepherd, Charlie Rose, Jay Pharoah, Tracy Morgan, Luis Guzmán, Phillip Boykin, Gabourey Sidibe, Taraji P. Henson, Sway, and that’s just a taster from the list. Slightly more prominent roles fall to Whoopi, Adam Sandler, and Jerry Seinfeld, who sit around a table with Rock’s character at his bachelor party. Maybe Chris Rock decided to give work to everyone he knows in the business – which is sweet.
Despite all that talent and some good comedic routines, the puerile attitude towards sex, the stereotyping of women by a writer who seems stuck at the sexual age of 13, and the repulsion by Andre Allen and his whole posse towards the very idea of a finger up someone’s ass during sex was tiresome. Rock’s character actual pukes himself when forced to watch another man in a threesome with the same two women and doing the same exact things (i.e., getting a double blow-job, what else?) as he himself had done.
I wanted to like this movie. I’ve seen Chris Rock do some pretty funny shit. I liked him for “discovering” W. Kamau Bell and getting him on TV, albeit briefly. I made some effort to see the film. Top Five is only playing in three movie theaters in the Boston area, all the kind that offer first-run Hollywood blockbusters that are of zilch interest to me. Even though it’s just a few miles from my house, this is the first time I’ve been to this strip mall multiplex, which is apparently competing for a trophy for the filthiest women’s restroom by 2:00pm. Yuck.
Top Five refers to a person’s all-time rapper faves. The references were probably better understood by someone in their 40s (Rock is 49). The musical score was groovy – Questlove was Executive Music Producer – but the moment I would relax in a giggle, Rock would bum me out with some nasty reference to or treatment of a woman or a sexual activity. Should I mention here that Jay-Z and Kanye were co-producers? Had there been a dollop of decent gender politics, this film could have been a winner, but in fact, I felt I was being repeatedly slapped across the face with the wet fish of sexism.
Here’s the trailer: