My first exposure to Black comedy was The Chappelle Show at the age of thirteen. To this day, I can quote the entire “Charlie Murphy: True Hollywood Stories” sketch about Rick James, in my sleep. It has never and will never get old for me, unlike most sketches. The show itself was done so well, that Dave Chappelle lost his mind trying to keep it going. Everything after on “Comedy Central”, except Tosh.0, has failed to live up to what it started all those years ago.
My interest in Black comedy has since waned. There were moments when I’d find other shows or comedians of note: The Boondocks was great; Kat Williams’ sass is a riot; Key Peele is a nice diversion; and Loiter Squad is the closest I will ever get to a Jackass revival. None of them, however, can fill the void left by The Chappelle Show.
Even though nothing else appeals to me, I find Chris Rock to be unique voice in comedy that warrants attention. He talks about what you expect, but he comes off as truthful and rational, taking into account the context of a situation.
The best example is his skit “How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police”, where he equates a beating by police, to the confrontational behavior of a suspect. He fails to assume that perhaps the police in question could be racist, but the conceit of the sketch is still sincere and most of all funny.
Outside of some comedy shows, and his role in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, I was not wholly familiar with Rock going into Top Five. To my surprise, I was not in the least disappointed.
The story is one of creative bankruptcy, addiction, and an entertainer’s struggle for reinvention. Rock plays Andre Allen, a successful comedian turned actor that longs for something outside his comedic persona. The movie takes place over the course of a day in New York City, with Andre in the midst of promoting his new film. Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson, is a film critic that is shadowing him for an interview. Behind the scenes, Andre is getting married to Erica Long, played by Gabrielle Union, a prominent reality TV star whose fame mirrors that of Kim Kardashian.
The film seems entirely improvisational as Rock does his usual shtick, with Dawson to provide a reaction and a difference in perspective. It makes everything seem all the more real and genuine, especially in the interactions between characters.
It also helps the theme, a dilemma I believe everyone can relate to. We get the impression Chris Rock has once been Andre Alan, a comedian who believes he cannot be funny without a few drinks before a show, a reflection of the late Robin Williams’ struggle with alcohol. Andre wants to remain sober because he wants to be on top, but being on top means giving in to mainstream entertainment and sacrificing what dignity he has left.
There is a great juxtaposition between Andre and Erica; one is genuinely talented, and the other was made talented via network television. Andre is opposed to the idea of a televised wedding and the reality show in general, but if he wants to be a success, he has to become like Erica and take direction. Erica is in the same dilemma; if Andre does not go along with the whole charade, she will have nothing left when her show falls apart. She possesses no talent other than looking pretty and being an imposter.
A variety of comedians show up as cameos. They provide a few funny lines that make their appearance worth while, some of which I refuse to spoil because it makes the surprise all the more potent. There is one cameo so out-of-nowhere, so unbelievable, no one is going to see it coming or understand why this person agreed to appear in such a way. The cameos also help the theme, creating a sense that they too have struggled with being funny and staying relevant.
Top Five is very funny. I may have a better understanding of Black comedy compared to other White people, but I think even they could enjoy the humor. There is a joke about Tyler Perry that is so good, it gave me a sense of relieve knowing other Black people think Perry is a bad writer and a misogynist. They are also mature and come as natural because of how improvised everything feels.
The faults of the film lie in the dialog that is obviously scripted. It happens mostly in the beginning when two characters are dumping exposition in a very awkward manner. I think neither actor wanted to say it, but they needed to get it out of the way so they could move on.
Furthermore, the editing comes off as unfocused and disjointed. There will be cuts to scenes of little significance, before going back to the scene at hand, or a bad shot here and there. It was jarring because this happens all throughout the film, but the dialog makes it worth the struggle.
If you have ever struggled with being creative or had a crisis where you felt you need to change everything about yourself, Top Five is very relatable. But if you have no interest or are better off than the characters in this film, save your money for Battle of the Five Armies.