Get your Rock off.
Anyone who’s seen Chris Rock’s stand-up will know what a savage, straight-for-the-jugular comic he can be. So it’s something of a mystery that he’s never brought that sledgehammer wit to the big screen – at least until now.
His third film as director, after Head Of State and I Think I Love My Wife, Top Five is packed full of zingers even if, at first glance, the familiar tale of a comic-turned- actor desperately seeking credibility promises to be an indulgent 102 minutes.
Instead, Top Five arrives like a non-PC tornado. Take the opening conversation, between Rock’s A-list star Andre Allen and Rosario Dawson’s single-mum interviewer Chelsea Brown, with jokes about a “Mexican, lesbian, handicapped” President – and that’s before we get to the ear-curling n-word rant 10 minutes in.
Andre has arrived in New York to promote his latest film, Uprize, a 12 Years A Slave-ish bid for credibility set during the Haitian revolution. No-one likes it; everyone just wants to know when he’s going to do Hammy The Bear 4, an action franchise that sees him dressed up in a grizzly costume.
Already upset over the negative reaction to Uprize, Andre agrees to an interview with The New York Times, despite frequent attacks from one of the paper’s critics.
Yet when the spirited Chelsea arrives the vulnerable Andre opens up, telling her about one of his lowest ebbs – a hilarious/grotesque sequence in Houston involving Cedric The Entertainer’s fixer, Jazzy Dee, two buxom ladies of the night and a lot of booze and coke. Andre even takes Chelsea back to his ’hood, where she’s introduced to the family parlour game (naming your all-time favourite hip-hop artists) that gives the film its title.
Later on, there’s focus on Chelsea’s life and some so-so twists that engineer a little romantic frisson but, in truth, this never quite functions as a romcom, despite Dawson’s sunny presence.
The best aspect is watching Rock on blistering form, pricking the pomposity of the film biz while mixing in real-life cameos; friends Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg and an uncredited Jerry Seinfeld all attend Andre’s bachelor party (he’s marrying a rancid reality TV star, played by Gabrielle Union).
True, there’s a lot of woe-is-me here, Rock moping (in this thinly veiled guise) about why his Hollywood career isn’t as successful as Tyler Perry’s, but he never forgets to puncture his own ego. And, let off the leash, Chris Rock is a sight to behold.