The 400-Word Review: Top Five
By Sean Collier
December 18, 2014
There’s a tradeoff that comes with writing, directing and starring in one’s own film. The auteur gains control, which is a hard thing to come by in Hollywood; singular visions are preserved and the results are almost never bland. In exchange, the picture is usually saddled with at least one big drawback that another hand might’ve swept away.
In Top Five, Chris Rock gives himself more to work with than any director has. Andre Allen is a slightly less self-aware version of Rock, a former stand-up turned big-budget movie star now slumming it on a Bravo reality show. He’s trying to push a passion project about the Haitian slave rebellion, even though its box office prospects are slim. Reluctantly, he grants an exclusive to New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson).
Allen is slow to warm up the writer; the Times has panned him routinely (quotes from the reviews seem patterned off of Roger Ebert’s frequent eviscerations of Rob Schneider). But as the two connect over the course of a day in the movie version of Manhattan, Allen begins to open up — a dangerous prospect for someone who should not be in the business of self-reflection.
It’s convincing, it’s likable and it’s often very funny. A scene where Allen returns to visit family and friends in Brooklyn, with assists from Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan and Jay Pharoah, is uproarious; another, where Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg and Adam Sandler (playing themselves) visit Allen’s bachelor party is even funnier. A flashback to a disastrous club weekend featuring Cedric the Entertainer is raunchy fun.
That one problem, though: the situation is wholly and instantly unbelievable. Brown pursues her subject in a way that no interviewer ever would, seemingly trying to win a famous friend rather than get a scoop. (In the first act, she insists that the movie star accompany her to her apartment because she needs a specific recording device. This isn’t a joke, or a come-on; it’s just a plot point.) Allen eschews publicity from the newspaper of record at the very moment he needs it desperately — and even though he’s a subject that the Times would scarcely waste space on. And a second-act reveal strains credibility further.
Fortunately, that’s the difference only between a good movie and a great one; Top Five is ultimately winning. Despite some stumbles, Rock’s future prospects as a writer and director are strong.
My Rating: 8/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark