Top Five (2014) ☆☆☆(3/4) : An interview during one day in New York

TopFiveFeat“Top Five” works best when it is driven by a good chemistry between its two engaging lead performers. Whenever we see their characters walking together along the streets of New York, we can sense that they really enjoy each other’s company, and it surely helps that they gradually become more interested in each other, though they are supposed to be tactful and professional in their respective positions as a celebrity and a reporter.

Chris Rock, who also wrote and directed the movie, plays Andre Allen, a popular comedy actor not so far from Rock’s familiar comic persona. While he is frequently recognized by people thanks to the box office success of a silly cop comedy film and its two sequels, Andre has been dissatisfied with the static status of his current career, and he has lost interest in making others laugh. Desiring for being recognized as a serious actor, he recently played the real-life leader of the Haitian Revolution in a historical drama film called “Uprize”, but the movie, which somehow makes him look like a cousin of Robert Downey Jr.’s character in “Tropic Thunder” (2008), is apparently bound for a critical and commercial failure even though he promotes it as much as he can.

He is soon going to get married to his superficial girlfriend Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), a reality TV show star who is determined to make their wedding day into a big broadcast highlight guaranteed to boost her celebrity status. The media has already paid lots of attention to their upcoming wedding, and Andre has no problem with marrying her although he does not love her that much. While it is nothing but an event for publicity, this marriage will benefit both of them anyway.

TopFive03The movie follows Andre’s one busy day around New York which will end with his bachelor party. After being interviewed by Charlie Rose in front of college students, he meets Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a New York Times reporter who is assigned to write a profile article on him. He is reluctant to open himself a bit to her during their first minutes, but they become a little relaxed as Andre recounts one embarrassing moment he experienced several years ago in Huston. While the following flashback sequence is pretty raunchy, it is also hilarious enough for us to overlook its unsavory details as Andre suddenly finds himself getting far more than he wished for during his casual tryst with two girls in his hotel room.

Moving around several places together, Andre and Chelsea reveal themselves more to each other in the process. They drop by Chelsea’s apartment where she lives with her mother and her young daughter, and they also visit Andre’s old neighbourhood, where Chelsea gets lots of interesting materials from Andre’s colorful childhood friends. Like him, she is a recovering alcoholic, and it later turns out that her current relationship with her boyfriend is not as good as it seemed at first.

They eventually decide to spend a private time for themselves while not accompanied by Andre’s loyal friend/assistant Silk (J.B. Smoove), and they come to approach to each other closer than expected. Chris Rock, who shows a little more serious side here as he did in Julie Delpy’s “Two Days in New York” (2012), is funny and likable with his usual acerbic sense of humor, and Rosario Dawson is warm and gentle as a smart woman who had a fair share of troubles and failures like her interviewee. Revolving around various subjects including their top five rappers, the conversation scenes between Andre and Chelsea are fun and interesting, and I often wished that the movie had simply kept watching whatever was being exchanged between them.

However, their characters are pushed into predictable plot turns around its third act, and that is where it becomes less interesting. Like many other romantic comedies, there comes the point where a mandatory conflict is induced between Andre and Chelsea, and then there is also an expected moment when Andre is on the verge of falling into the bottom he has so far avoided.

TopFive04But the movie is still sweet and funny enough to hold our attention thanks to Dawson and Rock, and it continues to serve us with nice comic moments. If you cringe at that flashback sequence mentioned above, I can assure you that you will definitely squirm during another raunchy flashback sequence later in the film, but you may also be amused by how we sometimes let ourselves oblivious to obvious signs just for maintaining our relationships.

While Tracy Morgan, Romany Malco, J.B. Smoove, Cedric the Entertainer, Gabrielle Union, Ben Vereen and Kevin Hart appear as the supporting characters in the film, many others briefly appear as themselves here and there throughout the movie. Luis Guzmán, Taraji P. Henson, and Gabourey Sidibe are the actors who unfortunately appeared in Andre’s movies, and Woopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, and Adam Sandler make a cameo appearance during Andre’s bachelor party scene. Sandler is far funnier than he ever was in those awful comedy films he made during recent years, and I must warn you that a certain famous rapper literally butchers one classic song during his cameo appearance around the finale of the film.

“Top Five” is the third movie directed by Rock, and this is an enjoyable one although its several unsuccessful parts could have been trimmed in my opinion (the bachelor party scene is too excessive at times, for example). Rock drew solid performances from the actors surrounding him, and I was often reminded of Richard Linklator’s Before Trilogy as watching his scenes with Dawson. I do not know whether the movie will belong to the top five moments in their respective careers, but it is entertaining to watch them, and I hope Rock will advance with more confidence as a director.

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