Movie Review: Top Five

By Matthew Huntley

December 17, 2014

They're laughing at Tracy Morgan's pain.

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Chris Rock is not an actor. Or maybe he is but just not a very good one. His talent and humor stem from his role as a stand-up comedian and critical observer of society and human behavior. In this capacity, he has a pulsating energy and distinct insight, but pretending to be someone else is not his strong suit. This is evidenced in Top Five, which Rock wrote, directed and stars in, where the best moments are when he’s simply himself and not attempting to play a character.

Consider the sequence when he and some old friends (played by former and current “Saturday Night Live” cast members Tracy Morgan, Jay Pharoah, Leslie Jones and Michael Che) gather in a small apartment to eat, drink, reminisce and cheerfully chide one another. Everything about it feels natural and unscripted, and it was a joy just to hear this uproarious group of individuals talk. We wish the whole movie could have been like this, but unfortunately a less-than-inspiring plot kicks in, and when it does, it brings the movie’s spirit (and our interest) down.

Rock plays Andre Allen, a stand-up comedian-turned Hollywood actor who hit it big with a franchise called Hammy the Bear, in which he played a foul-mouth cop who dresses up in a bear suit. The last installment in the “Hammy” series grossed over $600 million worldwide, but despite its success, Andre tells Charlie Rose he wants to give up comedy and pursue more dramatic roles.


This desire coincides with Andre’s newfound sobriety - he’s a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser - and his first attempt at playing serious (and being taken seriously) is with a movie called Uprize, about the Haitian slave rebellion. He arrives in New York City to promote the film and attend his bachelor party. Allen is set to marry reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) in a highly publicized wedding, although he’s not exactly crazy about the idea, and we can see why. Long initially comes across an archetypal, superficial celebrity, who tells Andre, “If something isn’t recorded, it didn’t actually happen,” but by end of the movie, we see she’s actually a realist.

Andre’s agent (Kevin Hart) schedules him a one-on-one interview with a spunky New York Times reporter named Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who makes it her mission to deconstruct Andre and ask him the tough questions, like why he’s really choosing to abandon comedy. She promises him that if he’s honest and open about who he is, she’ll be more than fair in her article and help people see his talent and worth go beyond a silly, one-note Hollywood franchise. So the two spend the day together, talking about things like current events, family, relationships and the effort it takes to say sober (Chelsea herself is a recovering alcoholic).

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