Top Five Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union. Directed by Chris Rock. Rated R. Opens Friday.
The sad dichotomy of Chris Rock’s career is that while he’s one of the smartest, funniest and most insightful stand-up comics of all time, his work in movies has generally been dopey, simplistic and awkward. Rock’s third film as a director, Top Five, is a big step in the right direction, even if it’s still full of overly broad comedic moments and some questionable character development. Rock is never going to be a great actor, but he gives his best performance to date as movie star and former comedian Andre Allen, who’s trying desperately to move from popular but idiotic mainstream comedies into more serious drama.
Top Five takes place over the course of a single day, as Andre makes his way through New York City promoting his new movie and preparing for his wedding to reality-TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union). By his side the entire time is New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), whose probing questions inspire reflection, anger and attraction in Andre.
At best, Top Five is like a cross between Funny People and Before Sunrise, with smart observations about settling, in both career and romance. At worst, it’s a lame romantic comedy with a contrived third-act twist, gimmicky celebrity cameos and some ill-advised subplots (including a somewhat homophobic detour about Chelsea’s boyfriend). Even when it falls flat, though, Top Five has ambition, which is more than you could say about the majority of Rock’s previous film work. If he keeps on this path, he could end up with a truly great movie one day.