The Numbers Game
Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson
Review written by Robert D. Patrick
Bumbling lunacy, plumes of weed, and anatomy jokes – that’s been the popular well for comedies in recent years. Writers and directors, such as Judd Apatow and Evan Goldberg, make their money drilling for this kind of crass oil. Sometimes the affable schlubs in these buddy comedies come across as exhaustive and stale. Sometimes they use their bedraggled bravado to the best of their Cheeto-laced fingers, and the material works. But the tilled ground remains the same. Always pot, penises, and promiscuity. The doper’s trinity is popular with teens, twenty-somethings, and ambling hucksters in their thirties – that’s just what mainstream comedy has become.
Chris Rock’s semi-biographical Top Five has a litany of sex jokes, the occasional drug zinger, and an outlandish repertoire of physical humor. That said, there is an intellectual core to Rock’s opus that has been missing in the airy vacuity of his contemporaries work. Observational humor, the thing that used to be a Hallmark with Woody Allen, finds itself skillfully used in Top Five. Everything from philosophical concerns regarding Planet of the Apes to musings over Tupac Shakur’s tenuous legacy. Who are the world’s best comedians? Which hip-hop artist’s oeuvre stands the test of time as being most venerable and unique? These are the meat and potatoes of cavalier conversations among friends and acquaintances. Hypothetical situations strafed with acerbic wit and intellectual prowess. Rock’s cultural backpack is deep, and you’re likely to never hear the names of KRS-One and Charlie Chaplin brought up in the same sentence again. It’s a catwalk of showmanship and humility. While Kevin Smith has used this kind of media awareness to his advantage in films such as Clerks, Rock manages to create an organic world where candid exchanges seem timely and cerebral; loose and sincere.
The film is about a popular actor and comedian, named Andre Allen (Rock), whose day revolves around a barrage of interviews with the media over his newest movie. Cradling phones, anchoring down microphones, and talking into bobbing recorders, Allen is in the crossfires of a social blitz. One particular reporter, Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), follows the comedian around throughout the day. She begins with empty calorie fluff, moves into incendiary territory, and then finds herself jousting with Allen over a sphere of topics. The ensuing conversations are deeply hilarious and brave, as the film chugs through situations that Rock’s friend, Louie CK, would even find self-deprecating and moving.
There are a handful of barbed anecdotes that will leave you laughing, and many amusing observations throughout. But the most impressive marksmanship is by Rock’s unremitting ability to be confessional and bold. There is a sense of ownership in this film that Rock’s presence has desperately missed in the past, and the rewards are vast and many. Telling Howard Stern last month, the seasoned actor remarked that he simply “did not give a fuck.” That sort of deliberate, brash ownership is what gives Top Five its badge of courage.