Movie Review: Top Five
By Matthew Huntley
December 17, 2014
It would have been sufficient if Top Five simply observed Rock and Dawson talking to each other the whole time, speaking intelligent and insightful dialogue about interesting subjects such as Barack Obama; the subliminal racism in Planet of the Apes; Martin Luther King, Jr.; the differences between men and women when it comes to their expectations for weddings and marriage; and their top five favorite rappers. The two have such good chemistry and bounce ideas off each other so effortlessly that I wouldn’t be surprised if most of their scenes were improvised. We also respond to the movie’s social commentary about Hollywood celebrities and the public’s obsession with them and their trivialities, or the rigorous promotion process that famous people must go through in order to sell themselves and project the best image possible, right down to their tone and cadence for a radio sound byte.
Rock clearly had enough substance at his disposal to make Top Five a quick, perceptive comedy that could be both funny and piercing, which makes its mechanized plot all the more unnecessary. Before long, the contrived wheels start to turn as Andre and Chelsea discover they like each other romantically, which means the screenplay must find a way to paint his fiancée and her boyfriend (Anders Holm) in a bad light, not to mention cast a shadow of doubt on us that the two leads will end up together, or that they might succumb to the pressures of alcohol and drugs again.
Such conventional devices proved to be rather boring and felt forced, as do the overwrought sequences that were meant to build toward greater moments of hilarity but instead fall flat. One of these is when Andre recalls his first rock-bottom experience in Houston of 2003, when he met an escort named Jazzy Dee (Cedric the Entertainer), who walks in on Andre having sex with two women, which subsequently leads to an unforgettably disturbing night. I’m sure this flashback seemed funny on paper, but the way it plays out is too unbelievable and ends up making us feel awkward because we’re not exactly sure how to take it. We also don’t get much out of the cameos by Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld and Whoopi Goldberg, each of whom, like Rock, would be better suited to speak their own words instead of dialogue from a screenplay. Their opinions about infidelity and the female reproductive organ are just not that amusing because we’re never convinced they’d actually say something like this.
Top Five has its share of enjoyable, funny moments, to be sure (I was particularly fond of Chelsea’s remark about the world’s “two billion Chinese”), but on the whole, the movie is too inconsistent to recommend. It would have served us better as a purely observant film (think Before Sunrise), in which the characters simply talk about topical matters. Rock may have felt a more traditional plot was necessary to give the movie structure, or perhaps to make it more sell-able, but just as he’s proved on stage, or with small projects like the under-seen documentary Good Hair, about African-American hairstyles, it’s when he simply looks into and responds to things in our culture that he’s the most effective entertainer. He holds our attention just by being himself, which is a strong asset for a comedian, or anyone really.