Chris Rock has a reputation for brilliant, biting stand-up comedy and bad, boring movies. He’s certainly not alone; the list of brilliant stage performers who make terrible movies is a mile long (and includes Rock’s’ heroes Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Murphy) but Rock stands out, if you can say that, because his are almost always just boring. When you watch Pryor in Superman III, or Cosby in Leonard Part 7, or Murphy in anything he’s made in the last ten years (except Dreamgirls) you wonder what the hell they were thinking. You watch Chris Rock in Grownups, and you wonder why he doesn’t bother with thinking.
All that changes with “Top Five,” and please God, let there be more where this came from. This is what fans of Rock have been waiting for. Like his stand-up routines, it’s smart, biting, insightful, the mood shifts from angry to resigned to satirical. It’s sexy and raunchy in turns, sad and thoughtful and hilarious. Everything Rock looks at he sheds light on. This is a fantastic movie.
Written, directed and starring Chris Rock, at times it feels like he best Woody Allen film in twenty years. Since Allen is probably the best smart/funny actor/director in the history of cinema, Rock’s decision to borrow from him instead of (or in addition to) guys like Murphy and Cosby feels like a stroke of genius. And Rock brings the kind of comic energy that Allen seemed to run out of a while ago.
The film consists of a lot of walking and talking. It’s a good thing Rock and Rosario Dawson are so much fun to listen to, as they riff on Planet of the Apes, Barack Obama, and reality TV. Rock plays a character a lot like himself, a little bit like Kanye West, and with more than a passing resemblance to Birdman (more on that later.) Rosario Dawson is a reporter assigned to interview Rock right before both the opening of his big serious movie about a Haitian revolutionary, and his TV wedding to a reality star. So they spend a day together, visiting his family, going to a press junket, and walking around New York City telling stories about their love life and alcoholic misadventures (both are four years into “the program.”) There’s chemistry between them, but he’s about to get married and she’s not exactly who she says she is. Things get complicated, then get sorted out.
There are a ton of similarities between this film and the one that won Best Picture this year. Both are films about a washed-up actor trying to get people to “take them seriously” by doing something completely different, something the critics think is out of their range. In my opinion, this film is hands-down the better one. It is better directed, better acted, funnier, smoother, smarter, and more satisfying. Why did it not garner a single Oscar nomination? “Top Five” might be the best argument out there that Oscar is whitewashed.
For what it’s worth, here are my Top Five:
1. Public Enemy
2. A Tribe Called Quest
3. Wu-Tang Clan
4. Kanye West
5. Ghostface Killah