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Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 12:01 am

Chris Rock goes for broke with Top Five

Chris Rock as Andre Allen and Rosario Dawson as Chelsea Brown in Top Five.
PHOTO COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURES

 

As far as the movie world is concerned, 2014 will be remembered as the year in which things ended with an international bang and a corporate whimper. After having massive numbers of files hacked presumably by representatives of North Korea, Sony Pictures was forced to capitulate to terrorist demands and shelf the Seth Rogan-James Franco political comedy The Interview that revolves around an assassination attempt of that country’s leader Kim Jung Un. However, relenting to outside pressure and the request of hundreds of independent movie theaters, the film was released on Christmas Day to just over 300 locations. What the ramifications of this unprecedented act are is anybody’s guess but you can be sure that this is a game-changer that Hollywood Studios will have to come to terms with sooner, rather than later.

Often publicity departments err in generating hype so large that the film in question can’t live up to it. Such is the case with Chris Rock’s Top Five, a good comedy that Paramount Pictures has been hyping as one of the best movies of the year. How desperate were they to build awareness of the film? Well, I received a letter, as other members of the Broadcast Film Critics did, from the head of the studio Scott Rudin in which he stated that he is as proud of this film as any others he had produced (keep in mind, he’s been behind The Truman Show and No Country for Old Men, among many others) and that I should expect a copy of it in the mail in days to come. Sure to his word, it arrived one week before it hit theaters with a special message from Rock himself tacked to the beginning of it, thanking critics like me for taking the time to watch it. Needless to say, this is a unique approach.

With all of this in mind, I went into this film with expectations set far too high, yet there’s no denying that the movie is overall effective and Rock, who wrote and directed as well as starred in it, must be credited for taking on hot-button topics that need to be addressed in a forum such as this. He is Andre Allen, an actor not unlike the comedian himself, who’s caught in a whirlwind surrounding his personal and professional life. He’s in New York City to promote is latest film Uprize!, a serious drama about a little-known Haitian slave rebellion. Allen is making the rounds, hitting radio stations and attending a huge media junket, facing down skeptical reporters and critics who feel that his jump from comedy to drama is an ill-advised move. The more the actor defends his position, the more it looks like career suicide. (The poster for the film, showing a comically enraged Rock screaming with a machete in his hand, only underscores this.)

As if the pressure of selling a multi-million dollar film wasn’t enough he’s also in the middle of getting married to a vacuous celebrity (Gabrielle Union) who has her own reality show and insists that the nuptials be televised. Oh, and then there’s the matter of a Chelsea Brown (Rosario Brown), a New York Times reporter who’s tailing him in order to do a story on him. And did I forget to mention that Allen is a recovering alcoholic who’s in danger of falling off the wagon at any moment?

While this may sound like a top-heavy plot, it seems logical in the Hollywood vacuum where Allen exists. This is one of the areas that Rock lampoons effectively as he suggests, based on personal experience, that the pressure Allen is under is not uncommon for a star of his size. The depths of reality television and those desperate enough to put themselves in that invasive arena, racism, both obvious and thinly veiled in the entertainment industry and resisting the amoral temptations of stardom all come under fire, as Rock takes no prisoners in speaking honestly about each of these subjects.

There’s no question that Rock knows of what he speaks yet the film is too preachy for its own good. Far too often, it feels as though the actor is haranguing us from atop a soapbox rather than having these points evolve naturally from the story. Still, the interaction between him and Dawson is genuine, while effective cameos from Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld and others boost the movie when it seems to be lagging. In the end, Rock makes his point and seems relieved that he’s gotten all of this off his chest. Sure, Top Five is a very good movie, yet it fails to reach the lofty bar Paramount Pictures has set for it.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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