by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Opens Friday 12
Chris Rock’s film career is baffling. One of the most poignant stand-up comedians in the business, his set of skills seldom transfers to the big screen. When he’s the lead, his work is so watered down it barely registers (Head of State, Down to Earth). When he’s Adam Sandler’s sidekick, he’s unnoticeable.
Rock is aware of this and has tried to mend his Hollywood career. I Think I Love My Wife was a respectable first try as writer/director. His latest effort — Top Five — is more ambitious, but falls short of the mark. There are laughs but they’re eclipsed by fixations on film structure and character development. Not the sexiest problems to have.
The SNL alum is André Allen, a more unhinged version of Rock’s public persona. Allen is immensely popular thanks to a ridiculous franchise featuring him in a bear suit, but he wants more respectability. On the weekend of his wedding to a reality TV star and on the opening day of his 12 Years a Slave-equivalent, Allen is forced to do an interview with a comely reporter from the New York Times (Rosario Dawson), in spite of his contentious relationship with the publication (they tend to trash his movies).
Turns out both the comedian and the journalist see through each other’s bullshit which leads to some uncomfortably frank conversations.
Top Five works well enough, I guess, as long as it focuses on the two leads. Unfortunately, the movie tends to digress: Too many characters with nothing to contribute; two broad, drawn-out flashbacks that destroy the mood Rock is going for. Rosario Dawson’s character is a disaster: a collection of traits that serve the story but don’t add up to a real person.
There are moments in Top Five that hint to a better movie, one about an artist dealing with his shortcomings while balancing fame, family and addiction without involving bodily fluids, (perhaps the lowest common denominator in comedy). I wish Rock had made that movie.