Up next is Chris Rock’s comedy about a comedian, Top Five, starring himself, Rosario Dawson, and Gabrielle Union. It is Rated-R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use.
Top Five follows Andre Allen (Rock), once hailed as the world’s funniest man, who is now trying to change his image and become a serious actor. This transformation is in response to his reality-TV star fiancée (Union) talking him into broadcasting their wedding on her TV show, something he finds little to no passion in doing. Following his last-minute preparations for the wedding is ambitious reporter and interviewer Chelsea Brown (Dawson). They spend the day in New York together, and unexpectedly, both Allen and Brown begin to rediscover their true selves in each other’s company.
6.5 out of 10
The first thing that came to mind after I finished watching Top Five was that it is essentially Birdman, except with black actors, cruder jokes, a poorer script, and they replace a superhero actor trying to change his image with a comedic actor who is trying to change his image (They are both trying to become serious actors, by the way). Birdman comparisons aside, Top Five has some good moments, but is diluted by its tendency to go too far with the jokes, so much that they almost serve no purpose, in both comedic and intrinsic value. In other words, the jokes are neither funny nor do they help convey the message of the film, one that is so heavy-handed it makes you nauseous.
Chris Rock is essentially playing himself in this movie (flashback to the Birdman review where I said the same exact thing). Yeah Chris Rock’s funny, but he used to be hilarious. His stand up was incredible. Check out Bring the Pain if you haven’t already. My point is, Chris Rock used to be funny and now he’s not really, like his character in the movie. And that allowed us to get a good amount of Rock’s classic comic voice in there, which was really refreshing to see. But let’s not lie to ourselves, he has never been a great actor. So while he was solid in the role, his dramatic scenes certainly left for something to be desired.
However, for Rock to directly spoof himself is pretty intelligent script writing, which there is, admittedly, quite a bit of in Top Five. Comedy is extremely difficult to write, and a lot of the jokes are really impressively written. But, alas, there is a fine line between the funny jokes and ridiculously crude jokes. For example, there is a group sex scene (not much nudity shown but still pretty weird). It’s in slow motion. The ‘vocals’ are pretty intense. There are pillow feathers everywhere. It was a good five minutes long. My point is, it was funny at first, but just became too much. The film demolishes the line between funny and crude. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with crude, it’s just that it was one ridiculous sex joke after another.
Independent of the graphic sex jokes are the jokes dominated with statements about race and gender. And by dominated, I mean they are shooting at us point blank with statements about race and gender. And I don’t have any problem with a movie making a statement about either of those issues, I just think that their placement was unwarranted and pointless in a movie that ended up focusing on true love and doing what you want. All these jokes did was make me awkwardly cough/laugh once or twice. If I, a teenage boy who laughs at literally everything, could not be entertained by this movie, then something’s wrong. I just became uninterested.
On the other hand, I’m not going to pretend like this movie was terrible. It is probably the best comedy of the year and by a considerable margin too. And clearly I’m in the minority as most people seemed to enjoy the movie. There was certainly some good writing and the cameos by Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, and Adam Sandler were hilarious. The storytelling is pretty solid too, as it all takes place in one day and integrates flashbacks throughout to help tell the story. But where this film fell short for me was in its tendency to go too far. There is no doubt that Top Five has solid moments, but in the end, it is just a mediocre film with jokes that have the potential to be great but instead fall flat.
5.0 out of 10
Comedies are supposed to be funny. Anchorman is funny. Dodgeball is funny. 21 Jump Street is funny. Even Birdman, which is equal parts dramatic and satirical, is funny. Top 5, simply speaking, is not funny.
The funniest part of the night certainly wasn’t the movie. It was probably Vig almost getting denied access to the theater for being under 18 (despite his nice beard) and the movie attendants giving me a suspicious look as I very conspicuously walked into the theater with the outline of a water-bottle in my coat. From that point, the night went downhill.
Maybe Chris Rock’s cultural references just don’t resonate with me (I’m doing my best not to be racist) and I just don’t get his humor. Certainly other people in the theater thought it was funny, as the other 30 or so viewers were laughing hysterically through much of the 1 hour 41 minute running time. Some parts were truly hysterical, which Vig would probably disapprove of me talking about here. There were a few or so of those moments, but that was about it in terms of comedy. The rest was a soppy love-story mixed with frequent attempts at one-liners that ultimately flopped, resulting in a slightly above-average romantic comedy. And for everybody who’s seen a rom com, we all know how they are going to end, and the journey there is never particularly entertaining.
I want to return to my comparison to Birdman for a minute. Birdman is one of my favorite movies of the year so far, second maybe only to Nightcrawler. (I have yet to see many of the probable Oscar movies though). The similarities between Top 5 and Birdman are striking. Both deal with the trappings of fame and a main character struggling to regain the respect of the performing arts community. In both films, the story is at least partially based on the lead actors. In Birdman we see Michael Keaton’s character looking to mount a Broadway show and step out of the shadow of an iconic superhero he played decades earlier. This is also Keaton’s first well-received starring role since Batman. In Top 5, Chris Rock plays a man looking to rebuild his reputation as one of the funniest men in America. Chris Rock may be looking to shed his association with such failures as Grown Ups and regain the respect he had during his stand up days.
Unfortunately for Top 5, these similarities to one of the best films of the year simply highlight its shortcomings. Birdman is superior in every single way. It boasts better star power, with Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, and Naomi Watts among others, whereas Top 5, although laden with comedy power, including Chris Rock, Cedric the Entertainer, and Kevin Hart, does not have the acting chops to match up with Birdman.
Top 5 isn’t as funny as Birdman either, despite its identity as more of a true comedy than Birdman. Top 5 looks to rise on outrageous humor and one liners, which often fall flat, whereas Birdman’s satirical comedy is built up and fanned over the course of the movie.
Birdman’s criticisms of fame and Hollywood’s cash grabs seem more authentic too. Whereas Top 5’s satire is buried under mountains of romantic comedy crud, Birdman is biting and hilarious from start to finish.
The only place where Top 5 and Birdman don’t differ significantly is reviews. Top 5 boasts a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes while Birdman holds a slightly higher 94%. Their Metacritic scores are quite similar as well. For the life of me I cannot figure out why critics are unable to recognize Birdman’s inherent superiority. I was actually checking my phone constantly during Top 5 to see just how much longer I was going to have to be in that theater, whereas during Birdman I was fully absorbed. Expect to see Birdman take home some major hardware this awards season, starting with a significant number of awards in the seven categories in which it is nominated, including Best Picture Comedy, Best Actor (Michael Keaton), and just about everything else you can think of. Expect Top 5 to be left out in the cold, exactly where it belongs.