Movie Review - Top Five

Chris Rock stars as Andre Allen, a former comedian who is trying to do serious films. He flies into his hometown of New York City to do promotions for his new film "Uprize" about a Haitian, slave rebellion. He reluctantly agrees to have a female reporter named Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson, interview him for The New York Times, despite the bad reviews he's gotten over the years from that newspaper.

While Andre does radio and other forms of press, Chelsea follows him and asks him in-depth questions in order to profile him. Andre is upset because no one really cares about his dramatic film. All anyone really cares about are his previous comedic movies from which he's trying to distance himself or the fact that he's about to get married to a Bravo, reality TV star named Erica, played by Gabrielle Union who by the end has the best acting moment of the whole piece.

The entire film takes place all in one day and it's mainly a love letter to New York City, as writer-director Chris Rock shoots a bunch of two-shots of himself and Dawson, while they do a bunch of walk-and-talks. Earlier in her career, Dawson was in Edward Burns' Sidewalks of New York (2001), and it's no secret how much inspiration Burns took from Woody Allen, which Rock also cites as an inspiration. This film, however, feels like a very pedestrian or watered-down version of both Burns and Allen.

It feels so contrived and forced. It's not funny. It doesn't really go anywhere interesting or bold. It doesn't really say anything. As a romantic film, it's really lame and so lacking in excitement and heat. Unfortunately, Rock can't carry it in that regard. He should have hired someone else to play the lead.

There are six comedic set pieces. Only one of which got me to laugh a little, and it was a scene involving the presence of a bunch of other comedians sitting around Rock. The first comedic set piece though is a drug and sex scene, made underwhelming because it doesn't compare to The Wolf of Wall Street.

The second set piece seemed like an excuse to assemble all the black actors from Saturday Night Live. Nothing of substance or significance is learned here. It perhaps stands as a glimpse of black people just shooting the breeze. Yet, the title of the film comes from this scene and I couldn't gather as to what the significance or even relevance was. Andre and his friends and family list what their top five favorite rappers are. What this says about Andre or anyone else I'm not sure and the movie doesn't make it clear.

Ava DuVernay's I Will Follow features a scene of two people talking about rap music that's not only informative about the music itself but also the people talking about it. Rock's scene is rather pointless. His scene takes easy pot shots at Tyler Perry, which is rather weak. His exaggerated radio segments present some interesting ideas but are dull and repetitive.

A whole sequence where Chelsea's boyfriend Brad, played by Anders Holm, turns out to be gay is problematic. First, I don't even know why it's here. It does really nothing for Dawson's character. Second, it makes no sense. I suppose the joke is that despite having gay relationships herself, Chelsea is surprised that her boyfriend is gay and that she missed the signs. If that's the joke, then that's fine, but her reaction seems odd.

The fact that she would be so naive as to not realize is dumb but that she would be upset, given her motives at the end of the movie, is also dumb for Rock's screenplay. Rock's reduction of Brad simply liking anal penetration as the tell-tale to his homosexuality is reductive overall to what homosexuality is.

Andre faces the newspaper's critic who bashed his movies. Instead of having an actual dissection or discussion of why the movies were bad or disliked to the point that such vitriol was printed, Andre and Chris Rock run away from it. A genuine conversation between artist and critic could have been had, but it becomes yet another wasted opportunity.

With the depiction of the movie-within-the-movie being so terrible both in its reception and its creation, it's unclear what Rock is trying to say with it. Is it that he's no good at dramatic work? Is it that he's going into it for the wrong reasons? It's not clear. Then, there is the Louis CK ending where it's as if we're watching an episode of FX's Louie and I'm just baffled.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.


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