Top Five movie review: funnyman black-and-blues

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Top Five yellow light

Writer, director, and star Chris Rock is so close to something great here, but he gives in too easily to the unchallenging and the very conventional.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): not the biggest fan of Chris Rock

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Chris Rock writes and directs himself in his own version of the Sandler-going-serious flick Funny People, though Rock wants to have his “Why can’t you all respect me as an artist?!” cake and have his yucks, too. Rock (Grown Ups 2) barely disguises himself as “Andre Allen,” Hollywood superstar with a string of deeply shitty (and enormously popular) action comedies to his name who is now trying to go straight and Oscar-baiting with a historical drama about a brutal 1791 Haitian slave rebellion that saw thousands of white slaveowners slaughtered. There really is an amazing movie to be made about that subject, but it’s clear that Allen’s Uprize — *snort* — is not it. And this undercuts Rock’s plight. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a comedian and making people laugh, if that’s what you’re good at, but the upshot of Top Five seems to be this unfairly nasty smackdown: Stick to what you’re good at, and don’t try to do anything else, because you will fail.

It’s all rather dispiriting, particularly when I have no doubt that Rock could be a brilliant dramatic actor, if he really wanted to give that a shot. Dispiriting, too, is how ultimately ordinary Rock’s tale becomes, unfolding as a day in the life with Allen as he walks around New York talking to a New York Times journalist (Rosario Dawson: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) on the day Uprize opens while also juggling wedding preparations for his impending nuptials to a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union: The Perfect Holiday). (Dawson and Union are generally awesome and do the best with what they have to work with here, but they deserve better than the boxes they are shoved into.) As star, writer, and director, Rock does hit some smart notes, smacking with bitter wit the pressure on a professional funnyman to be always funny, the limitations imposed on black faces in Hollywood, and the temptations and horrors of substance dependence. But then racial and gender stereotypes rear up, ugly and obvious. Rock is so close to something great here, but he gives in too easily to the unchallenging and the very conventional.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Top Five for its representation of girls and women.

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Sun, May 17, 2015 2:46pm

Thing I Always Say: make sure the audience’s sympathies are engaged with the protagonist. If we don’t care whether he gets what he wants, we don’t care about all the stuff that goes into deciding that question, and that can be a huge chunk of the film.