Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is sick of being funny. He has made three Hammy the Bear movies which have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. And now he wants to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. Andre has just released a historical film about Haiti and the slave rebellion that resulted in 50,ooo white people being beheaded.
At the same time, he is about to get married to Erica, a reality show star (Gabreille Union). She explains to Andre when he is in trouble and perhaps not able to show up for said wedding : “You owe me. I have no talent. I can’t sing or act or tell jokes like you. I performed (favorite sex act of Andre) every time you came back from your travels, and now it is your turn to give back to me.”
If there is one thing Chris Rock has it is talent: as a writer, stand up comic, actor, and director. I love to spend time with him. In the documentary “Good Hair” he asked perceptive, respectful questions about black women, because his five year old daughter asked why she didn’t have good hair.
In Top Five, Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) a NY Times reporter, interviews Allen in what is supposed to be an in your face way but quickly develops into a flirtation, almost a first date, which may take them both deeper than a reality show marriage.
Chelsea probes into Andre’s alcoholic past. This leads to a revelation about Chelsea’s similar problem. A scene in a liquor store is fraught with more tension than the explosive arguments and violence that randomly occur. A recovering addict must fight every day to stay sober. Watching Rosario Dawson fondle a bottle of whiskey is positively scary.
If Rock’s goal is not to be funny in this movie, he gets his wish mostly. Instead he proves himself talented in all the ways Erica lists that she is not while exploring the making of an artist who looks an awful lot like himself. There are moments of humor. My favorite even though it is painful, is when Rock reacts to DMX who has decided that he should try an old standard that he has no aptitude for. It is Andre recognizing himself in this attempt at wrong headedness that makes it funny. And there is pathos when he encounters a man who knows him well on the street — their encounter results in Rock giving the man all of the money in his wallet. Only later do we realize why, and it is beautifully done.
Chelsea, a very intelligent, accomplished woman with a functional family, is reduced to apologizing to Andre for telling the truth about the shlock movies she has trashed in her reviews. Hammy the Bear does not deserve respect. Why should she have to apologize for her honest appraisals? Even though she is really apologizing for something else, the movie acts as if women were almost as good as men but not quite. Whoopi Goldberg’s presence tries to show something but it doesn’t come off. There are other flaws in the screenplay, having to do with the one white character who happens to be gay and is ridiculed for both it seems.
But I want to see more Chris Rock movies, and I look forward to the next one. I wouldn’t mind if it was funny.