[Screen It]

(2014) (Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson) (R)

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Comedy: A comedian tries to promote his newest film, a drama, all while contending with a reporter who trails him all day with questions about his life as a celebrity.
At one time, Andre Allen (CHRIS ROCK) was named the funniest man in America, and he had a wildly successful film franchise playing the title character in a number of "Hammy the Bear" movies. Now that he's sober, however, he wants to do serious and profound work, and his latest film, "Uprize!" is about a famous Haitian slave rebellion. But it's not getting good reviews and thus he's out doing the PR circuit and ends up teamed for the day with New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (ROSARIO DAWSON) who follows him around from one publicity stop to the next, with his longtime friend, bodyguard and driver, Silk (J.B. SMOOVE), always close by.

A recovering alcoholic herself, she wants to know how being sober has affected his career, and is also interested in his upcoming nuptials to reality TV star Erica Long (GABRIELLE UNION) who's going to have their wedding broadcast live on Bravo. As the day wears on, she gets him to reveal things about himself, all while some chemistry begins to spark between the two.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
What if I told you about a new movie where the story revolves around an actor who once starred in a highly lucrative and popular movie franchise but gave that up and is now trying to revive his career through a more respectable line of thespian work.

Consider it also has lots of "insider" references to being a star in Hollywood and working within that industry, including the pitfalls of doing so, and features a well-known cast, you might think I'd be referring to Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Birdman."

After all, that well-received film stars Michael Keaton as such a washed up, formerly big star who's changing genres from superhero to straight drama in hopes of preventing his vocation from completely flat-lining. Well, lo and behold, there's another film now coming out that resembles that one in terms of general storyline and related themes.

And that would be "Top Five," a comedy starring Chris Rock as an actor who was once named the funniest man in America and starred in a popular action-comedy franchise featuring a bear character (or, at minimum, a guy who inexplicably dressed up in a bear costume) who works as a cop and apparently gets involved in "Lethal Weapon" type, shoot-em-up scenarios.

But he's given them up and instead is now starring in "Uprize!" about a Haitian slave rebellion. Buzz is bad, so his agent (Kevin Hart in a brief cameo) sets up a day-long interview with a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) who follows him as he does the usual PR drop-bys, visits his family and such.

It's Rock's look at working in Hollywood as a black actor (no doubt stemming from his own experiences) but it's not all wink-wink, nudge-nudge jokes and satire. In fact, there's an extended part of the story revolving around Rock's character trying to make a go at it while on the wagon, and fearing that his past comedic success was more of a factor of being drunk or high than any God-given talent.

Things do get more serious in the second half as compared to the first. Yet, rather than going full Downer Debbie mode, Rock -- who also serves as the film's writer and director -- realizes he can't alienate his audience and thus throws in some outrageous comedy to keep things from getting too solemn or deep.

Sadly, rather than doing something clever, Rock decides to go the sophomoric, gross-out route by introducing a brief subplot about Dawson's character finally getting confirmation that her boyfriend is gay (or at least bisexual). That's followed by a flashback sequence where she's repeatedly show reluctantly sticking her fingers where the sun don't shine to pleasure him, followed by an unpleasant bit of revenge feature the substitution of a hot sauce soaked tampon. That comes after an earlier group sex comedy sequence (featuring Cedric the Entertainer) that concludes with a shot that similarly elicited lots of "Ewwwww" from those at our screening. It's yet another example of an offering that wants to have its cake, but consume it as well.

There's also another, longer subplot about Rock's fiancée (Gabriel Union) playing a reality TV star who's in the final stages of orchestrating their wedding that will air live on Bravo. Considering the related low-hanging fruit of the subculture of reality TV, it's a shame the satire isn't as pointed, wicked and funny as it clearly could and should have been, and relatively easy so at that.

That said, there are a fair number of decent -- if decidedly adult -- laughs to be had, and Rock's fans might enjoy a brief bit of him doing some stand-up bits near the end. While that makes sense in terms of the storytelling -- about his character getting back on the horse, so to speak -- it does feel a tad too convenient. And a brief, late in the game triple cameo featuring Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg feels a little too much like "Hey, look who I know" name dropping, rather than being as creative as possible with the material.

The film's title comes from the characters occasionally listing their top five entertainers (such as rappers), but there's not a chance "Top Five" will make mine, whether that's as a straight comedy or as satire about working in the entertainment business (especially when compared to the superlative "Birdman"). In keeping with the title and regarding the film getting an ever so slight recommendation (for tackling some unexpected thematic material), it rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 3, 2014 / Posted December 12, 2014

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