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Top Five: Blu-ray + DVD + HD Review

Top Five (2014) movie poster Top Five

Theatrical Release: December 12, 2014 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Chris Rock

Cast: Chris Rock (Andre Allen), Rosario Dawson (Chelsea Brown), Gabrielle Union (Erica Long), JB Smoove (Silk), Romany Malco (Benny Barnes), Cedric the Entertainer (Jazzy Dee), Ben Vereen (Carl), Anders Holm (Brad), Sherri Shepherd (Vanessa), Jay Pharoah (Mike),Tracy Morgan (Fred), Karlie Redd (Rhonda), Hayley Marie Norman (Tammy), Brian Regan (Engineer), Luis Guzmán (Himself/Bobby the Cop), Kevin Hart (Charles), Leslie Jones (Lisa) / As Themselves: Bruce Bruce, DMX, Charlie Rose, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Larry Flick, Jim Norton, Anthony Cumia, Sam Roberts, Gregg Hughes, Sway Colloway, Seaton Smith, Dean Edwards, Lynne Koplitz, Jerry Seinfeld (uncredited)

Buy Top Five from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

Chris Rock has long been considered one of the biggest and most successful people in comedy. Despite that, he doesn't have a bunch of film credits you'd recommend to someone just discovering him. He's acted in dozens of movies over the past thirty years, but none of them strike you as "Chris Rock movies" to rival his work in stand-up and on television.
Even when Rock himself is writing and/or directing, as he did on vehicles like Head of State and I Think I Love My Wife, the results have generally been unfavorable critically and unremarkable commercially. Rock's biggest hits in film have come when he's a part of something bigger, from the Madagascar franchise to the two Grown Ups movies to Lethal Weapon 4.

Rock seems determined to raise his artistic profile with Top Five, which makes the first compelling case for him to carry auteur status. His first movie as lone credited writer and third in the director's chair, this comedy asks to be taken seriously and was by critics, who gave Rock some of the best film reviews of his career.

The comic plays Andre Allen, a stand-up comedian turned movie star who has enjoyed a number of successes, most notably a trilogy of action-comedies in which he played, in costume, Hammy the Bear, an ursine police officer. Allen's career has taken a new direction of late. Instead of making people laugh, he's now trying to inspire them with uplifting stories like his latest film, Uprize, a drama about the Haitian Revolution. The reinvention has coincided with Allen's recovery from alcohol addiction. He's now been sober for years and is about to marry Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) in a ceremony that is being planned in detail for a reality television show on Bravo.

In Chris Rock's "Top Five", a comedian turned movie star (Rock) is interviewed by a New York Times journalist (Rosario Dawson).

With the wedding looming, Andre has to carve out a day for press commitments in conjunction with the opening of Uprize. Among the assortment of radio and print interviews he has to conduct is a profile by New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who tags along with him as he visits family and friends in New York in advance of his bachelor party. As Brown, who has similarly fought alcohol abuse and is four years sober, gets to know Allen, he gets to know her, a single mother whose relationship is crumbling this very day on her boyfriend's 30th birthday.

Top Five finds Rock writing from his own personal experiences as a wealthy black celebrity. He provides candid insight into his personal thoughts, concerns, and fears. The parallels between Rock and his protagonist may not be as obvious as those of Michael Keaton and Riggan Thomson, but they're close. This very film could be seen as Rock's reinvention and even if he doesn't have one defining role he's trying to live down, he is clearly pursuing artistic relevance, something of a challenge given his track record in film. It is easy to imagine Rock being surrounded by constant public attention, made uneasy by his celebrity, and disappointed by his film's reviews and box office performance.

It is easy to appreciate Top Five as something of meaning to Rock. It is comparable to the films written and directed by Judd Apatow that mine the filmmaker's life and professional worlds for story material. Rock does not cast his real family members, but he does enlist a bevy of famous friends and collaborators to fill the many roles in the film. Some of them, including Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld (looking out of place), and Whoopi Goldberg, play themselves, friends of our comedian lead. Others like JB Smoove, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Sherri Shepherd, and Tracy Morgan have fun with original characters.

Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) is planning her upcoming wedding to Andre Allen on a Bravo reality television series. Rapper DMX makes fun of his legal problems and himself in his imprisoned appearance.

Unfortunately, Top Five does not resonate much for someone who isn't rich and famous, someone who cannot relate to their "bottom" being an alcohol-fueled threesome that turns into an off-putting foursome. Rock does not convey the pain of vitriolic reviews or the sting of commercial failure in a way that draws empathy from someone outside of show business.
That material is complemented by the possibility of a journalist-subject romance that is hardly tantamount to Roman Holiday.

The film has its amusing moments, like a jail cell encounter with DMX. But it also has its share of contrived ones, like a liquor store meltdown and a comedy club redemption. Rock believes in this material and does a pretty good job of selling it. Still, though it intermittently entertains and never loses its grip on your attention, the movie is just too inconsistent and not funny enough to win you over.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews and an advantageous December opening, Top Five made no mark whatsoever on Hollywood's award season, failing to even compete in the Golden Globes' Comedy or Musical categories despite its usually attractive insider bend. The movie didn't fare much better with the general public, grossing a respectable but unspectacular $25 million domestically in a run that began with 979 theaters, expanded to 1,426, and immediately after began a quick retreat.

Top Five has reached stores, with Paramount releasing it as a barebones DVD and in the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Top Five Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-only: Portuguese
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 17, 2015
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Costing $12 million to produce, Top Five was a reasonably low-budgeted film. Nonetheless, it looks as presentable as today's much pricier fare on Paramount's fine-looking Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 picture is free of even minor concerns and the default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack does an excellent job of balancing crisp dialogue and prominent music including more than a few inspired needle drops.

Chris Rock stand-up bits from over the years are featured throughout "It's Never Just a Movie." Kevin Hart wows writer-director-co-star Chris Rock in "The Making of 'Top Five.'"

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Bonus features, all of which are exclusive to Blu-ray per Paramount's current practices, begin with an audio commentary by Chris Rock and JB Smoove.
The spirited track lets both comedians discuss real aspects of celebrity life they see captured in the film. Rock also discusses the technical side, from his pop culture and New York movie influences (Spike Lee, Scorsese, Woody Allen) to certain changes and near-changes that 2014 current events (involving Robin Williams and Bill Cosby required). It's a good listen, even if Smoove offers little more than enthusiastic admiration of the entire film.

On the video side, where everything is encoded in HD, we start with "It's Never Just a Movie: Chris Rock and Top Five" (20:08) considers the star-filmmaker's parallels to his character and his history in comedy, with looks at his comedy bits and home movies, as well as interviews of other influential figures, from over the years. The archival footage is complemented by new interviews of Rock and his castmates, and some raw/unused footage.

"The Making of Top Five" (10:26) might seem superfluous following the previous piece, and there is a tiny bit of overlap. Still, it gives us a good amount of the behind-the-scenes production footage the former altogether lacked.

Whoopi Goldberg and Adam Sandler play themselves, friends of Andre Allen in the movie and in some deleted snippets. Andre Allen's baseball movie "53" is excerpted for Charlie Rose in this deleted scene.

"Top Five Andre Allen Standup Outtakes" (6:22) is what it sounds like:
unused bits from the character's Comedy Cellar performance. Riffing on the movie 42, rap, and Donald Sterling, they were cut for a reason.

"Top Five Moments You Didn't See in the Film" (4:16) are deleted snippets that went unused despite the scenes they were shot for making it in.

Finally, we get three full-fledged deleted scenes (3:30): Andre Allen quoting classic rap lyrics for Charlie Rose, looks at Allen's "serious" movies, and clips from Erica Long's Bravo reality series.

While the Blu-ray opens by streaming trailers, the DVD plays a few hard-coded previews for Terminator: Genisys, Selma, The Gambler, and Interstellar. The DVD's Previews listing plays a trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street before repeating the other four.

The basic menu attaches score to a poster design. The Blu-ray supports bookmarks, but does not resume unfinished playback.

"Top Five" spends a movie's opening day with its star (Chris Rock) as his brain is picked by a reporter (Rosario Dawson) interviewing him.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Chris Rock's Top Five takes multiple swipes at Tyler Perry, but doesn't offer a much better alternative for black film actors and entertainers. This comedy clearly comes from Rock's heart and means well, but it misses its targets as often as it hits them and varies in quality enough to slightly disappoint overall.

Paramount's Blu-ray combo pack provides great picture and sound, a passionate audio commentary, and a solid 45 minutes of video extras. If your opinion of the movie is a lot higher than mine, you'll probably appreciate this release.

Buy Top Five from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Chris Rock: Grown Ups • Grown Ups 2 • Death at a Funeral • Bee Movie • Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
Rosario Dawson: 25th Hour & He Got Game • Parts Per Billion • Men in Black II • Zookeeper
Gabrielle Union: Think Like a Man • Think Like a Man Too | JB Smoove: That's How I Dooz It
Tropic Thunder • Funny People • About Last Night (2014)
New: Annie (2014) • Into the Woods • The Breakfast Club • The Interview • The Humbling

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Reviewed March 23, 2015.



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