TIFF Journal: ‘Top Five’

'Top Five'

Movie Rating:


Chris Rock writes, directs and stars in a movie that finally knows how to use Chris Rock properly. Who could have possibly guessed that he would have to do it himself to get it right? Well, pretty much everyone, I suppose. Still, it’s nice that it finally happened.

Rock has of course directed for himself before in the limp Hollywood comedy ‘Head of State’ and the interestingly flawed ‘I Think I Love My Wife’. However, both now feel like trial runs for ‘Top Five’. Like Richard Pryor, George Carlin and countless other standup comics before him, Rock has always been a raging talent on stage who just couldn’t seem to get cast in the right role on film to bring out his true gifts. In ‘Top Five’, everything that the comedy genius does right is all up on the screen and it’s hysterical to behold.

Essentially, he’s playing himself, which helps. Rock stars as a superstar standup comedian who has made a handful of stupid yet successful comedies and now longs to be taken seriously. He’s about to launch a drama in which he leads a slave revolt that already seems destined to fail, and is also about to embark on a televised wedding with a Reality TV star. So, his chances for a career resurgence are pretty low. The story takes place in a single day between his film’s opening and the wedding, in which he’s partnered up with a beautiful New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) for a long interview about honesty that just might save his soul and maybe even spark a little love affair. Don’t worry, there are plenty of laughs along the way, probably one every few seconds.

Essentially, Rock as made his own version of a Woody Allen movie. It’s not autobiographical, but it’s clearly personal and that honesty spills out all over the screen. During his film-long chat with Dawson, Rock spits out monologues that could easily fill his standup shows, yet finds a way to make them feel like dialogue. The movie has poignant moments of drama and a touch of heartstring pulling, but Rock is wise enough not to push those buttons too hard. They’re there to give the movie substance, but the focus is the comedy, and he kills it.

Rock and Dawson make for wonderful sparring partners at the center of the movie. Surrounding them is a remarkable collection of comedic talent including Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, J.B. Smoove, Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld (who Rock gets to do very un-Seinfeld-like filthy things to hilarious effect). Rock called in all his friends for the flick and they all delivered, leading to a hysterical, sweet and clever little comedy.

As writer/director, Rock never shoots for the moon with the movie. All he wanted to make was the kind of comedy with substance that he was never offered as an actor, and he has pulled it off with ease. Hopefully, the flick will be successful enough for him to do it again immediately.

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