Pop Culture…With Soul

Chris Rock’s Top Five Is Top Shelf

At the beginning of the film, Top Five,  André Allen (Chris Rock) is at a turning point.

He’s a comedian who’s best known for Hammy The Bear, a series of films about a talking bear/police officer (think Lethal Weapon starring Smokey The Bear).
hammy The films have made him a very rich man yet Allen wants to be more than the guy everyone yells out “Hammy” when he’s seen out in public.  To that end, he signed up to star in the movie, “Uprize”, a film about the Haitian Revolution and he’s three days away from being married to reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) live on Bravo. kanye-jay-chris-rock-608x427Unfortunately,  none of this is working to change his image, as people are more curious about him making another Hammie movie than his current one.  Allen’s a cranky, old soldier who’s down to his last fight before being resigned to his fate and he knows it.  These days, it seems the one thing that genuinely gives him pleasure is his favorite question that he loves to ask; “What is your Top Five rappers of all-time?”

An annoyed Allen becomes even more so when he finds out that he has to do an Uprize-related day long  interview with Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) top-five-moviea freelance journalist for the New York Times.  Allen’s no fan of the Times due to one of their in house critics, James Nielsen,  writing a series of hard core scathing reviews of the Hammie films.

By the end of the day, Allen will be still at the turning point, but not in the way he imagined.

 I have to admit, when I saw the previews, I expected to see something totally different than what I actually saw and that turned out to be a pleasant surprise, I really liked this film.  I felt that the first half of the film was the best.  André and Chelsea ride and, eventually, walk around NYC, with Andre’s best friend/right hand man Silk (JB Smoove) not far behind, having this truly amazing conversation under the guise of an interview.
It’s during that time, we find out about our couple.  One thing they both have in common, they’re both recovering alcoholics; a revelation that sets up a hilarious flashback scene involving a show in Houston and a promoter (Cedric The Entertainer). Cedric-the-Entertainer-in-Top-Five-Movie-Film-2014 He takes her to his old neighborhood to meet his childhood friends, including his ex (Sherri Shepherd) and, unintentionally his father (Ben Vereen).  There are even scenes of Allen making the rounds to promote his movie.  There is a lot going on and the pace is brisk, yet the director makes it all flow and feel natural.   From Chelsea’s underlying agenda (it’s clear if you’re paying attention) that slowly transforms into something more and Andre’s snarkiness that melts away the longer he’s around her, their dialog  is pitch perfect.  The chemistry between Rock and Dawson is casually cool, reminiscent of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the “Before” film trilogy.

ChrisRockZoeSaldanaTakeFive_article_story_largeIf this was all there was to the film, I would have been content.  Yet, there’s a jarring shift in tone that starts off the second half that, while it wasn’t a bad thing, it took a few minutes for me to get back into the flow.  The comedy, which was more subdued (for a Chris Rock film) in the first half, became more amped.  In lesser hands, that could have been a bad transition, however, the director makes the jump surprisingly well.  Which makes it even more surprising that the director, as well as the writer and the star of Top Five are all same person, Chris Rock.

 We all know of Rock, the Comedian but we tend to not remember that he’s also done a bit of behind the scenes work (writing, producing and directing) since he starred in, wrote and co-produced CB4, over 20 years ago.la_ca_1124_top_fiveI’m sure the casting agents never had an easier gig than working this movie.  It seems like all Rock had to do was to go down his Contact list and started dialing, there are cameos galore (if you ever wished to see Charlie Rose and Bruce Bruce in the same movie, you can mark that off your bucket list, friend).  The main cast doesn’t have to do much, this is all about Andre and Chelsea, after all, but they make the most of the time they do have. Many folks are aware of the “very special guest cameo” in the movie (and it’s great on a couple of levels) but, for me, it was the ladies who stood out.  Dawson has never been better than she is here; her flashback scenes showed a comedic side that’s only been hinted at in other roles by comparison, I hope we see more of that in the future and  Union has a emotionally powerful scene, towards the end of the film that comes out of nowhere and is fantastic.
One of Rock’s greatest assets, (other than his connections)his amazing insight of practically all things American is used to great effect in Top Five.  The film lover in me noticed influences from movies such as “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling“, “Hanging With The Homeboys“, “Network” and the previously mentioned “Before” series and they are all woven into a narrative that never insulting to its audience while remaining true to its black heritage.  shareSpeaking of heritage, this is the 2nd film I’ve seen in the past six weeks (Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Beyond The Lights is the other), written and directed by Gen X Black Americans that is clearly a “Black” film (Top Five is so black that a Muzak version of Mtume’s Juicy Fruit is heard in an elevator in one scene) that is totally accessible to anyone who wants to watch a great film (regardless of what those Sony E-mails say), which Top Five certainly fits all the qualifications.  With Top Five, Chris Rock has more than proven that he has what it takes to create cinema that is compelling and entertaining.  Not only is this the best movie of Rock’s career, this is the best thing he’s ever done, period.  Hi-Five for Top Five.  Speaking of which…
My Top Five:
  1. W.C.
  2. Slick Rick
  3. Scarface
  4. A Tribe Called Quest
  5. De La Soul

and one more, because you always feel you’re leaving one out…The Pharcyde

a tribe called questandre allenbruce brucecedric the entertainercharlie rosechris rockde la soulethan hawkegabrielle unionjo jo dancer your life is callingjulie delpyNYCrosario dawsonscarfaceSherri Shepherdtop fiveTV

PCDS • December 26, 2014

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