By Dwight Brown NNPA Film Critic
Chris Rock recently hosted Saturday Night Live. During the show’s normal intro section, he did around 10 minutes of standup. One of the targets of his wicked humor was the new World Trade Center. He said he would never go in it. There were audible gasps, and a bit of controversy followed. Some weren’t amused that he had the audacity to say what people think. That’s the brilliance of Rock, who is a talented social satirist; he’ll say anything. Top Five gives us a glimpse of that comic genius. Just a tad.
Andre Allen (Rock) is a hip New York-based stand-up comedian who has stretched his talents thin. He’s in a plethora of movies; none are particularly good, though they have brought him fame and fortune. His ladyfriend Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), a gorgeous, sexy brown-skinned woman with a blonde, two-tine weave, has a reality show, and Andre is a frequent guest. An impending filming of their marriage will put their fragile relationship to the test, on coast-to-coast TV. He lives in a fish bowl.
Rock’s script sets up the incessant turmoil of Andre’s life perfectly. You know something deep and meaningful is missing in his existence, but yet you don’t feel sorry for the wealthy brother/man. A normal screenwriter/director would add just a couple of more characters to the soup. But not Rock. His script calls for an endless parade of cameos, from his own friends and acquaintances that turn the proceedings into a potpourri of New York Who’s Who, and Who Cares.
Fate brings a tall, lovely, head-on-her-shoulders-right journalist into Allen’s life. She’s Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) and she’s writing a profile piece about the comedian. He’s reluctant at first. His agent (Kevin Hart) twists his arm. Then almost instantaneously, Allen is smitten. Chelsea is everything Erica is not: genuine, smart and not playing to the cameras. Could she be the one that helps him find a more fulfilling life?
Over a 24-hour period, sequences on the red carpet, in the ghetto, the streets, fancy apartments, busses and bathrooms blend together like a drunken night spiraling out of control. It’s New York. Anything can happen, and it does. The over-the-top scenes peak with a mini-orgy and Allen trying to manhandle two sexy, insatiable ladies. It’s the funniest scene in the movie.
As a director, Rock’s style is either controlled mayhem or he’s letting his cast run amuck. An endless parade of headstrong comedians, movie stars, journalists and celebrities play to the balcony seats. They overpower the thin plotting. And the way-too-talky script makes the movie feel like a play on wheels. If you get the feeling that this vanity project panders to a shallow, attention-deficit, reality TV-type audience, you’re not alone. But so what? You’ll laugh anyway.
Rock is solid as the comedian in turmoil, and he looks dapper. Dawson is the kind of alluring actress most men wish they could date, and her Chelsea character has an equally come-hither persona. Gabrielle Union’s Erica is a synthesis of all the Housewives of Wherever shows. Shallow, glamorous and add another pinch of shallow for good measure. Saying Kevin Hart is manic as the agent, is redundant. He does frantic better than anybody.
Chilean cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro was the D.P. on Lars Van Trier’s controversial sex drama Nymphomaniac: Vol. I. Maybe that’s why the bedroom scene was so much fun to watch. Editor Anne McCabe (Maria Full of Grace) has O.K timing; the laughs, outrageous moments and funny cameos come at the right times.
There’s a good chance this nugget of urban and urbane humor will find a laugh-starved audience this holiday season. But if Chris Rock truly wants to give his fans a holiday treat, he will film a new stand-up comedy concert and talk about: Police shootings. Global warming. Oil pipelines. Poll tax. National healthcare. Immigration. Or even the new World Trade Center. It’s what he does best.
Visit NNPA Syndication Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com