Monday, 15 December 2014

PEOPLE LIKE US: Rock, Dawson chemistry lend Top Five its vibrant, humorous appeal

TICKET TO RIDE: Chelsea Brown (Dawson) gets her scoop from actor-comic Andre Allen (Rock).

With Top Five, Chris Rock has given audiences an insightful, laugh-out-loud funny look at issues of race, class and the Hollywood machine that gets to the heart of the comedian's signature mix of irreverence and the Black American experience. It's an instant classic that will hold up for years to come.

Rock stars as actor-comedian Andre Allen, a seasoned Hollywood marquee name whose career has seen better days. The fans still adore him for his Hammy movies, but the ruthless critics are another story. So when New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) requests an interview with him, he is understandably hesitant. But he eventually gives in, chiefly on the advice of his homeboy-for-life/road manager (played by J.B. Smoove). Chelsea skewers him about not being funny any more, the matter of his battle with alcoholism emerges, and before long Allen's complicated relationship to fame manifests.

In the tradition of Brown Sugar (which endeared fans to Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan), Top Five reveals a dynamic chemistry between its principal stars, Rock and Dawson, whose complex on-screen bond slowly evolves into something truly fascinating. It's a beauty to witness. 

Whether they're riffing on hip-hop pioneers, train-hopping across the city, promoting his latest flick (a homage to the Haitian Revolution), visiting his folks in the country or discussing a range of topics (from her Latina heritage to her reading The Cinderella Effect), what we see are two people opening up to each other's worlds and being transformed by the rich learning experience that comes as a by-product. 

It's Rock's movie, of course (he also wrote and directed), but he allows his co-stars to shine (Dawson, for the record, is divine), and the cast is peppered with cameos from over a dozen Black Hollywood A-listers, namely Gabrielle Union (as Allen's reality-star wife), Cedric the Entertainer (a rowdy show promoter) — and Whoopi Goldberg, Taraji P. Henson and Gabourey Sidibe all appearing as themselves. 

Brutally frank, cleverly written and laced with enough punchlines to give you pause, Top Five is comedy gold. Tyrone's Verdict: A- 

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