Upon popping Top Five into my DVD player, it became immediately apparent to me why so many critics had compared the Chris Rock comedy to Woody Allen’s early work when the film first hit theaters last winter. From the opening shots of the film, when simple white titles on a black screen cut to two smart and stylish individuals in mid-argument on a busy city street, Top Five stylistically echoes Allen’s best movies about love, life and neurotic New Yorkers. Yet that comparison does not do the film justice. Despite these noticeable retro influences, Top Five manages to be the freshest and most modern comedy in years--definitely exceeding the majority Allen’s more recent oeuvre, and pretty much everything else in theaters too.
Following in Allen’s footsteps, Rock didn’t just write and direct Top Five; he also stars as Andre Allen, a brash stand-up who became world famous thanks to his cheesy Hammy the Bear film franchise and is now attempting to reinvent himself as a serious actor by starring in a violent historical drama about a Haitian slave revolt. The film is opening the same weekend that Andre is scheduled to marry reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) in a lavish, stage-managed display that has little in common with any actual expression of everlasting love. Andre kicks off this most important weekend by meeting up with New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who plans to follow him around as he does radio interviews and picks up rings in order to write a truly honest profile of the man she once saw perform stand-up on her college campus. From there, the two roam around New York discussing everything from their experiences as recovering alcoholics to Andre’s theory that Planet of the Apes led to the assassination of MLK Jr. While they passionately disagree on many topics, Andre and Chelsea’s chemistry is apparent to the audience from the start, though it takes the two of them a bit longer to figure out how perfect they are for each other.
Like Rock’s best stand-up, Top Five is filthy, funny and oh so smart--not to mention infinitely quotable. (”Spaghetti with ketchup is the Cheerios of Haiti.”) It pushes boundaries with some of its sexual situations; one moment involving hot sauce and a tampon will make you squirm uncomfortably and laugh uncontrollably at the same time, and that doesn’t even approach the ridiculousness of another escapade involving Cedric the Entertainer. The film deals with the harsh realities of showbiz in way that echoes this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, Birdman, except even harsher and more realistically. As a man struggling to leave his past behind while simultaneously wondering if those were in fact the best days of his career, Rock is excellent, though Dawson steals the show as Chelsea. Sexy and funny while still flawed and relatable, she is the kind of woman who keeps bottles of hot sauce in every room “like smoke detectors.” Chelsea is most definitely not perfect, but thanks to Dawson’s raw and fiery performance, she still comes across as the girl every man wants and every woman wants to be.
Rock and Dawson are backed by a strong ensemble of comic talent that includes JB Smoove, Kevin Hart, Sherri Shepherd, Tracy Morgan and Leslie Jones, just to name a few. Packing this many comedians into a cast ensures that the energy of the film will remain sky-high, and every frame of Top Five buzzes along as though it had been jolted with caffeine. The film’s primary flaw is that the ending is far too predictable--though that does not make it any less enjoyable. Edgy and romantic, hilarious and yet still heartwarming, Top Five is a must-see.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
The two-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo pack of Top Five also includes a digital HD download of the film, outtakes from an Andre Allen stand-up routine, deleted scenes and commentary featuring Rock and Smoove.
"Top Five" is on sale March 17, 2015 and is rated R. Comedy. Written by Chris Rock. Starring Chris Rock, Gabrielle Union, Rosario Dawson.