Wednesday, September 10, 2014

TIFF'14: Top Five: Cinderella, Cut It Up One Time

by Odienator
(click here for all TIFF 2014 reviews)

***1/2 (out of four)

Chris Rock's Top Five is incredibly tasteless, totally politically incorrect and obviously not in a condition the MPAA will grant an R. It is also funny as hell, with leading man/writer/director Rock soliciting laugh out loud moments from every comedian and celebrity he had in his Rolodex. Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg riff on pre-nuptial agreements. Kevin Hart freaks out as a N-word spouting agent. DMX finally admits he lives in jail before launching into a Charlie Chaplin song. And Cedric the Entertainer executes a bout of menage-a-trois coitus interruptus that is just plain wrong on about 47 levels.

I haven't even gotten to the scene the MPAA will explode over, involving a tampon, hot sauce and, oh, never mind. If this visually stays in the movie, expect more than one think piece about just how offensive it is.

Somewhere under all this raunch is a well-written love story between Rock and Rosario Dawson. Dawson gives what may be her best performance as a New York Times reporter assigned to cover a day in the life of famous comedian/actor Andre Allen (Rock). Andre's success has been measured by a series of "Hammy the Bear" cop buddy comedies where he appears, in full costume, as quip-loving bear solving crimes with human partner Luis Guzman. "Andre Allen's movies are so bad," writes one consistently antagonistic New York Times critic, "that I wouldn't watch them if they were projected in my glasses." 

Sick of yelling out "it's Hammy time!" in sequel after sequel, Andre produces and stars in a serious movie about the Haitian Revolution. Playing real-life figure Dutty Boukman, Andre estimates that he and his fellow liberators "kill about 5,000 White people onscreen." It's this destined to flop movie that pairs Andre with Dawson's reporter. Any publicity is good publicity, especially when selling a passion prestige project none of the fans are going to see.

Andre hates reporters, but Dawson is not only easy on the eyes, she's whip-smart and unafraid of challenging the star's answers. Her bullshit detector is on, and like Andre, she's been sober for several years. Rock, who wrote the screenplay, pokes fun at several sacred cows, but plays the alcoholism angle straight. Dawson looks at booze with a mix of terror and desire (at one point, Andre removes a bottle she's been hugging in a convenience store like a security blanket), and the threat of relapse hangs over both protagonists like the sword of Damocles.

Dawson follows Andre as he does photo shoots and inerviews. He also runs errands for his reality show fiancee (a game, brutally funny Gabrielle Union). She cares more about producing the perfect reality show wedding than Andre, going so far as to exchange the wedding rings Andre chose with ones "more camera-friendly, according to the producer." When Dawson challenges Andre about the validity of this upcoming wedding, which has the appearance of media production rather than true love, his response is deeper than expected.

A lot of Top Five feels liks Chris Rock shot scenes of things he would have described in his stand-up comedy. The film riffs on fame, relationships, addiction, sexuality and race. Like his onstage persona, Rock is not afraid to be truly ethnic, as in a great, improvised projects scene where Andre's family is made up of the hottest Black comedians working today; or when Dawson's grandmother shows up in flashback to endorse assplay in Spanish. He's also unafraid to merge his raw comedy with unabashed sweetness. Dawson's reboot of the Cinderella fable, courtesy of her daughter, is a funny, innocent melding of the French story with a funky, Latina twist. The last shot of Top Five gets its emotional power by being a callback to Dawson's lovely monologue about "CIN-der-eya."

Rock gets quality work from his cast, including JB Smooth as Andre's right-hand man and bodyguard. Smooth's hangdog expression is both a source of comic joy and empathy; he looks at Andre the way your best friend looks at you after you've fucked up big time. Union, Jay Pharoah and Hart are memorable with little screen time. And Cedric the Entertainer gets to bump uglies and utter a punchline about wooden hangers that makes absolutely no sense but may be the funniest line in the movie.

But Top Five belongs to Rosario Dawson. Rock makes an extremely charitable ally, both behind and in front of the camera. Their chemistry is palpable, and they handle both comedy and drama with grace and deftness. At the Q&A, Rock joked that Dawson would get Oscar consideration, and while it's deserved, the filth-flarn-filth of this movie might kill Oscar voters before they could even nominate her. I can't stress it enough: This movie is nasty.

The title comes from a repeatedly asked question in the film: What's your Top Five rap artists? Several people answer the question, but unless I miscounted, everyone seems to keep coming up with six entries. It's one of those questions that tells something about the person answering it, especially if the person asking is a rap fan. You didn't ask, but I'll tell you mine:

Salt 'n Pepa, Tupac, Rakim, Public Enemy, KRS-ONE (and since they kept giving an extra as a backup: A Tribe Called Quest.)

(Aside: I don't know why Top Five currently has no distributor, because this movie is going to be a hit.)

(UPDATE: Looks like Paramount will be releasing Top Five worldwide. Good luck getting that R, Paramount!)

1 comment:

le0pard13 said...

Oh, I've got to see this. Thanks for the heads up.