Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Chris Rock's aggressively unfunny "Top Five" proves that he can make a picture as unenjoyable as Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories." Now all he needs to give us are thirty or forty classic films and he'll be right up there.
Rock plays comic Andre Allen (he's made enough references to "Annie Hall" in the movie and his interview tour promoting it that he might as well have gone with the anagram Ahni Allen), star of a successful movie comedy franchise in which he dons a face-covering ursine costume as "Hammy the Bear" (the first of several conceits that make no sense). Like Sandy Bates in "Stardust," he doesn't feel funny anymore and wants to make serious films, such as his new release, "Uprize," about a Haitian slave rebellion with thousands of fatalities (the second asinine conceit is that any major studio would bankroll the venture; the third is Allen's supposed surprise that black audiences prefer a Madea Halloween comedy).
"Top Five" follows Allen around New York as he conducts a roving interview (and, inevitably, a sexual affair) with a New York Times reporter named Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who, using a variety of pseudonyms, personally writes just about the entire Arts section (stupid conceit #4). I've liked Dawson's work immensely in such films as "Sidewalks of New York" and "Trance," but here her sexiness only serves to reinforce Rock's small-screen stature. Woody has proven that a leading man can make up for mediocre looks with wit and intellect, but Rock doesn't cut it. (By way of comparison, I offer the laugh-till-you-cry interplay of Regina Hall and the diminutive Kevin Hart in this year's update of "About Last Night.") In "Annie Hall," Woody and Diane Keaton gave us dozens of immortal scenes and lines; the dialogue between Rock and Dawson yields none.
I laughed twice or maybe three times in "Top Five," and they weren't big laughs. (I remained mute throughout Allen's impromptu set at a comedy club, at which everyone onscreen improbably convulses with laughter.) Nothing here approaches the wide-ranging insight of Rock's recent interview with Frank Rich, and the experience of this movie is curiously unpleasant. It has all the raunchiness of "Bridesmaids," but none of that movie's fresh characters or situations. A string of celebrity cameos feel, as they almost always do, like cashed-in chits.