Whether it is his work on “Saturday Night Live” or his standup performances, comedian Chris Rock has shown he has plenty of talent.
And that talent was mostly untapped in film until now, with “Top Five.”
Rock serves not only as the star, but the writer and director. It’s a film that showcases his strengths in all three phases.
Rock plays Andre Allen, a comedian trying to reinvent himself as a serious actor after a stint in rehab. His hope is that his latest film about the Haitian revolution can be that springboard, but the project is met with skepticism as everyone shows support for another film in his popular “Hammy and the Bear” series.
Allen is also on the verge of marrying a reality show star named Erica (Gabrielle Union) in a wedding that is going to be broadcast live on television.
Hoping to promote the film and the TV wedding, Allen agrees to an interview with a New York journalist named Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who spends a day with the comedian to get a better understanding of who he is. The interview serves as a chance for self-reflection for Allen, who begins to re-evaluate his life and career.
“Top Five” is essentially a chance for Rock to riff, but it is done in a way that feels natural and authentic. Dawson proves to be the perfect adversary to Rock, bringing her own baggage that helps to flesh out the character more than expected.
Allen and Brown interact with many of the people from his past, paving the way for a handful of memorable cameos ranging from Cedric the Entertainer to Jerry Seinfeld (whose scene generates the biggest laughs in the film).
Rock’s script isn’t afraid to get raunchy, sometimes a little too much, but there is a bit of heart at the center. Dawson and Rock have the chemistry to make it work, even when it feels a little contrived.
“Top Five” is a must for fans of Rock and the kind of film that might sway those who aren’t.
Opening this week
Arriving in Bowling Green this week is “Wild” (B+), which features an Academy Award-worthy performance from Reese Witherspoon.
She plays Cheryl, a young woman who ruined her marriage with drug abuse and promiscuity after the death of her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern).
Determined to start anew and make her mother proud, Cheryl sets out on a 1,100-mile hike across the Pacific northwest – a journey that leads to self-discovery.
Witherspoon already has an Academy Award for “Walk the Line,” but this is perhaps the best performance of her career – a far cry from her previous work. It’s a stripped-down, bare-bones kind of performance – one full of emotional baggage that Witherspoon navigates well.
Like James Franco in “127 Hours,” Witherspoon is asked to carry the film with long stretches of solo screen time. She remains compelling and believable throughout.
Dern is also good and deserving of a nomination as well, with one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes.
“Wild” is at its best in those intimate moments, and not when director Jean-Marc Vallée tries to spruce it up visually.
It’s a story of loss and redemption at its core, an emotional story fueled by one of the year’s most memorable performances.
“Wild” is rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use and language and opens Friday at the Regal Bowling Green Stadium 12.