Chris Rock gets up close and personal in an enjoyably frank comedy
Every comic talent seems to have a 'tears of a clown' movie in their locker, with hearty laughter inevitably followed by painful introspection. Following a, thus-far, underwhelming cinematic career during which he's repeatedly sold himself short, Chris Rock finally gets personal and writes, directs and plays a thinly disguised version of himself in Top Five: the results are surprisingly watchable.
Andre Allen (Rock) is a stand-up comedian turned film star, best known for lowbrow action comedies in which he's partnered by a gigantic bear called Hammy. One summer's day in Manhattan, Andre is publicising a hopelessly worthy historical drama called Uprize but interviewers are more interested in whether he'll make another Hammy film. Creative bankruptcy is compounded by personal issues; without drink or drugs, Andre doesn't believe he can be funny, and his impending marriage to reality television star Erica (Gabrielle Union) offers little solace. An antagonistic chat with reporter Chelsea (Rosario Dawson) awakens self-awareness in Andre, setting him into conflict with the various agents, journalists and hangers-on that surround him.
Rock has some history with improvisational art-house projects (2 Days in New York for example), and Top Five's looser, funkier feel showcases the comic's abilities far better than some of the big budget vehicles that fitted Rock like straight-jackets. Able to pull in A-list celebrity cameos from Jerry Seinfeld to Whoopi Goldberg and Adam Sandler, Rock's career clearly hasn't hit the nadir that Andre's has, but inhabiting such a frustrated character at least allows him space to play his strongest suit: discussing black representation in pop culture. Rock's scattershot film may not be for the ages, but at least developing a personal angle has allowed him to get his groove back.
General release from Fri 8 May.