“It’s Hammy time!” exclaims Andre Allen (in character as Hammy the Bear).
If someone had told me 20 years ago that stand-up comic Chris Rock (a former member of TV’s Saturday Night Live who had recently found his voice as a comedian) would one day emerge as a filmmaker, I would have told that person that they were crazy. In 2003, Rock made his directorial debut with Head of State, a comedy about a black alderman from Washington D.C. who’s propelled into the presidential election as a Democratic Party candidate (and who has a real shot at winning once he finds his voice). Although uneven in tone, the film is watchable due to the rapport between Rock and Bernie Mac (who plays his brother) as well as the realization that the film came out only five years before the election of Barack Obama. In 2007, Rock made his directorial follow-up I Think I Love My Wife, a more dramatic effort perhaps noteworthy only for being a remake of Eric Rohmer’s 1972 French film Chloe In the Afternoon. Seven years later, Rock finally hit it out of the park with Top Five, his third directorial effort. I recently had the chance to see Top Five on the big screen, and it was surely one of the best comedies of the year.
2014’s Top Five follows a famous comedian who’s trying to create more serious, meaningful work while dealing with an interviewer from the NY Times and upcoming wedding to a reality TV star. Rock assembled an all-star cast that includes himself, Rosario Dawson, J.B. Smoove, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Pharoah, Tracy Morgan, Sherri Shepherd, Leslie Jones, Gabrielle Union, Romany Malco, Kevin Hart, Ben Vereen, Anders Holm, Michael Che, along with cameos from Brian Regan, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Bruce Bruce, Jim Norton, Opie and Anthony, Charlie Rose, Luis Guzman, DMX, and Jerry Seinfeld. Rock shines as Andre Allen, a former comedian who fears he can’t be funny anymore. Dawson also shines as the NY Times interviewer who’s more much more complicated than she seems. It seems that everyone gets to have their moment in the film (many extremely funny). Hands down, the funniest cameos were from DMX and Jerry Seinfeld (I strongly encourage everyone to watch the film; their scenes must be seen to be believed). Sandler’s cameo was both funny and dramatic; a reminder that he actually can turn in good work and it’s easily the best thing he’s done since 2009’s Funny People.
Rock’s direction is confident and assured while his screenplay is his funniest and most mature work yet (it ranks among his best stand-up material, perhaps even better). His script also contains echoes of Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories (both explore the concept of a comedian and/or filmmaker who fears he isn’t funny anymore). No matter how wild things get, the balance between the comedy and the drama is maintained (in regards to a balanced tone, Top Five succeeds where Head of State failed). Top Five is an impressive work which more than suggests that Chris Rock does indeed have a promising future behind the camera, and I’m actually looking forward to his next directorial effort.