Top Five **1/2

Is it worth $10? Yes

In “Top Five,” Chris Rock plays a comedian who hasn’t made a funny movie in years and now wants to star in serious dramas. I know what you’re thinking and no, this is not meant to parallel Rock’s own career, nor should it be construed as a Meta workshop on his id.

What’s really in play here is Rock wanting to write and direct a comedy on his own terms, and he’s done that with moderate success. Anyone who’s seen Rock’s standup routines knows he can be a hilarious no-holds-barred comedian, and true to form some of the conversations feel like his standup material delivered by two people rather than one. Rock’s voice is so omnipresent, in fact, that it feels like it’s coming from every actors’ mouth with every line. That kind of imprint can be a dangerous thing, but it works to the film’s benefit here.

What “Top Five” doesn’t have going for it is a cohesive flow. Rock plays Andre, a comedian who became famous for donning a bear suit in the “Hammy” trilogy but lost his comic edge when he gave up the bottle. His latest film, “Uprize,” is about the Haitian slave revolution. To promote the film, which he sadly learns no one is interested in seeing, Andre spends the day with Chelsea (Rosario Dawson), a reporter he hopes will write a nice puff piece about him and the movie.

Rock and Dawson have an affable chemistry, but as they travel New York City from one event to the next (meeting his family, a press junket, etc.) the story starts to feel segmented rather than smooth. Or put another way: It feels more like a comedian transitioning from one piece of material to the next than it does an organic, natural story.

The good news is it’s pretty funny, with a strong ensemble to support the two leads. Cedric the Entertainer is grating in a flashback as Andre’s host for a comedy tour of Houston, but J.B. Smoove has some funny lines as Andre’s chubby-chasing assistant, Gabrielle Union vamps it up as Andre’s reality TV star and gold-digging fiancé, and Tracy Morgan pops in as one of Andre’s hopeless relatives. Kevin Hart, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld and Adam Sandler also have funny cameos, all of which adds up to enough laughs to make it a worthwhile comedy.

On a deeper level, one has to believe Rock is well aware of the pop culture commentary he’s putting forth. He’s playing an actor known for one thing about to settle into a sham marriage with a fame-loving harlot. Everything about that is superficial, none of it is real and notable and true. He doesn’t go so far as to offer a harsh critique (not that he should have); instead he allows people to make of it what they will, all the while leading them to an obvious conclusion.

Because Rock and Dawson share a kindly rapport the film has unexpected heart that allows you to enjoy the story along with the laughs. “Top Five” isn’t going to make anyone’s top five of anything, but it’s a comedy with depth and soul that’s worth a look.

Did you know?
The film was independently produced, then purchased by Paramount after it screened at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival.

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