Monday, 2 February 2015


Amid its caustic flippancy, and even due to it, Chris Rock's Top Five is a concise and eloquent summarisation of American culture in the modern age, and specifically black American culture. That it achieves this at all is laudable - so few comedies manage this level of accuracy in their satire, balancing an appreciation for the character of their satirical subject with so keen a knowledge of how best to mock them. Chris Rock benefits from his insider position in the entertainment industry, and a willingness to push the envelope further than strictly necessary, and Top Five is the abrasive yet affable product of all of the above. Pushing the envelope works when it's done in good spirit; observe what occurs when it's misjudged from the conception stage. Top Five doesn't relent on its sense of humour for a second while it commits to it at all - in for a penny etc. But it's hard to raise the slightest smile, never mind a belly laugh, when it relies on doing damage in order to elicit such a response. Rock's taste level nosedives just before the film starts to mellow, and succumb to a dramatic structure one wishes it hadn't even acknowledged, so the lasting impact is negated, but only while the film continues playing. Afterwards, that one dud gag - and it's a major dud - sticks with you as much as the many excellent ones. It has a disproportionate influence on the film, sure, because it's in its nature to do so. Though Top Five's second half ditches the bracing nonchalance of its first half to hammer home points made sufficiently earlier on and to embrace its status as, alas, a fairly conventional romantic comedy, the liveliness of that first half remains a joy to experience. Rock is an authoritative and incisive voice on black culture, and communicates his comprehension thereof in sharp dialogue that marks him as one of American cinema's smartest screenwriters, alongside a comedic streak that's generous and remarkably effective. That is, most of the time.