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Top Five
By SP_COP on December 12, 2014 | From www.slate.com
Top Five The comic centerpiece of Chris Rock’s extremely enjoyable Top Five is a sequence in which Andre Allen, the famous comedian played by Rock, takes journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) to the housing project where he grew up. (She’s writing a profile for the New York Times.) Back in Andre’s old neighborhood, Chelsea meets the friends and family Andre has known forever, and these old acquaintances are played by a murderer’s row of comic talent: Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, Jay Pharaoh, Michael Che, Sherri Shepherd, Hassan Johnson (aka Wee-Bey). Pharoah has said that Rock “put out a comedian’s signal in the sky like Batman” when casting the movie, which also features JB Smoove, Jerry Seinfeld, Brian Regan, and other great stand-ups. But what’s remarkable about the scene in the projects is not just how many funny people are assembled. It’s that, even given that collection of talent, the scene is even funnier than you to expect it to be. It’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s a blast.

The comics rib each other, explain themselves to the interloping journalist, and argue about the best rappers of all time (the “top five” of the title). Rock, directing his third feature film and allowing much more improvisation than he has in the previous two, orchestrates the scene expertly. Here and elsewhere, Top Five has a jaunty rhythm, credit for which goes not only to Rock—and executive music producer Questlove, who’s partly behind the pitch-perfect pop-music choices that keep the movie humming—but also editor Anne McCabe, who cut both of Kenneth Lonergan’s movies (among many others). Rock has compared his performance in the projects scene to Double Dutch, him trying to find his way in as the jokes keep swinging by. It’s a metaphor he likes. At another point in Top Five, we see snippets of Andre and Chelsea walking and talking around New York City, including a shot, returned to multiple times, of Andre trying to find his moment to jump as two girls swing ropes by a playground. He never does. Chelsea leaps right in.

That’s the two central characters in a nutshell: Chelsea is daring, perhaps a little too much so, while Andre, despite his success, is full of self-doubt. Best known for playing Hammy, a crime-fighting bear (a role mildly analogous, Rock acknowledges, to the zebra he voices in the lucrative Madagascar movies), Andre is making a bid to be taken seriously with his new movie, Uprize, in which he plays real-life Haitian revolutionary Dutty Boukman. (Brief clips of Allen-as-Boukman make it amusingly evident that we, unlike the critics in the movie, are not meant to take it seriously.) Top Five transpires, Linklater-like, in a single day, with Andre doing publicity engagements, running errands, and talking with Chelsea....
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Top Five
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