I have a weird personal connection to Chris Rock. In the spring of 1997, he played a show at my college. The night before his show, my roommate and I were walking home from a movie (Chasing Amy – don’t ask me how I remember) when Chris Rock’s driver stopped us and asked for directions. Now I was a Chris Rock fan but had been unable to get tickets to his show, and I could clearly see him in the back of the car. It would’ve taken almost no effort for me to say something like “I love your stand up,” or maybe even ask for tickets. But no – we gave him directions, said good night, and went home.
I really did love his standup, though. His movies, on the other hand, have not been nearly as good. While Rock isn’t bad in a supporting role, starring roles either fail to take advantage of his comic energy or work overtime to create opportunities for him to do nothing more than deliver his standup bits, which are always about 1-2 years old by the time they transition from stage to screen. So it’s a relief Top Five dispenses with this entirely and casts him as a standup comedian.
It’s also clear that Top Five is an intensely personal project for Rock. It’s based on the 1970s ouvre of one of his idols, Woody Allen, his close friend Louis CK encouraged him to make it as personal as he could, he wrote it during his down time on the set of Grown Ups 2 – a movie he acknowledges is probably not very good. And his iconic standup special Bring the Pain arose similarly when he decided to dedicate himself to writing the best material he could.
But Top Five is stuck in an uncomfortable middle ground, as it’s not as funny as his standup and not as powerful as similar passion projects from his peers, like Louis CK’s Louie or Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. It’s clear that Rock had high hopes for the film – which is easily his best – but it isn’t quite the masterpiece he hoped.