'Tis the season for movies about film actors desperate to establish artistic credibility. In "Birdman," the star of a superhero franchise (Michael Keaton) tries to get back in the game by mounting a very serious Broadway play. Now in the raucous, profane and very funny comedy "Top Five," the lead in a comedy/action franchise featuring a gun-toting bear (Chris Rock) wants to go straight by headlining a film about a Haitian slave revolt.
Turns out it's a very bad idea.
Set during one long and eventful day, "Top Five" stars Rock - who also wrote and directed the film - as Andre Allen, a former standup comic turned franchise movie star. But Allen feels unfulfilled playing Hammy the Bear - in full bear suit, no less - so he has decided to star in 'Uprize,' a very violent film about a 19th-century slave rebellion.
It's the day of the film's debut, and there are all sorts of things on Andre's mind.
First he has to deal with Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a New York Times reporter assigned to interview him for a major profile piece. Then there are endless phone calls back and forth with his fiancée Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), a reality TV star who is planning their lavish, on-air wedding. Plus, there's a press junket where reporters question whether Allen has made a huge mistake with his latest film, and a visit to his former home in the projects, where family members (including Tracy Morgan and Ben Vereen) good-naturedly insult him and ask for money.
But the crux of the film is the burgeoning relationship between Brown and Allen, both recovering alcoholics who bare their souls to each other during the course of the day. (A flashback scene involving Cedric the Entertainer when the Rock character hits bottom is a classic.)
And even though this coming together of like-minded people might seem like the ultimate film cliché, Rock takes it to some very interesting - and unexpected - places.
Featuring a host of terrific cameos - Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg all make appearances - "Top Five" is filled with the kind of smart, lewd dialogue that has made Rock a standup god. And for the first time in his career, Rock has the authority, charisma and screen presence of a real movie star.
"Top Five" - the reference is to a "who are your top five rappers?" game several of the characters play - is intelligent enough to be the best of two worlds. Inside its outer shell of R-rated raunch beats the heart of a solid relationship drama with two engaging lead characters. That makes it one of this season's smarter entertainments.