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Top Five Review

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Desperate to promote his lousy new movie, comic Andre Allen (Rock) spends a day with a newspaper reporter (Dawson). As secrets leech out and the encounter curdles, Allen, a recovering alcoholic, heads for the liquor store...

★★★★

Shot on the streets of New York in loose, long takes, there’s a candid documentary charge to Top Five that suggests Rock’s found a hustling style to match his voice. Liberated by the film’s baggy, day-in-the-life structure, riffing on everything from Planet Of The Apes to wheelchair Presidents, he’s revived his free-range form. Rock directs himself here — or at least, a version of himself. The booze backstory is fiction, as is the reality-star marriage, but it’s hard not to see Andre Allen as his sold-out alter-ego, jaded by compromise when, tears-of-a-clown style, all he really wants is to be Taken Seriously.

It takes a masochistic comedian to laugh at his own career, but that’s Rock for you. Movies about fame really shouldn’t be accessible — how can you relate when so few people have experienced it? Rock’s tactic, just like his stand-up, is exaggerated confessional — you’re in on the joke from the get-go, with a front-row view of the celebrity circus in all its identity-stripping, integrity-destroying, privacy-nuking horror.

Still, as Andre squiggles round the city on his talk-and-walkabout, Top Five’s romance treads a well-worn path. Strip out the F-bombs and bad-taste explosions, and underneath is actually a sweet-natured, old-school screwballer. In fact, the plot’s not far off a 21st century gender-reversal of It Happened One Night, with Rock in the Claudette Colbert role (wealthy, spoilt, about to get hitched) and Rosario Dawson as Clarke Gable’s grasping reporter. Trust us: Top Five’s idea of journalism is from a 1950s fantasy — stars going through a meltdown don’t generally invite The New York Times to film them, or meet the family, or make out in the restroom. It’s a symphony of false notes, but Rock and Dawson keep things grounded with a believable chemistry and deep, open character work.

Joining Rock’s parallel fame dimension are a raft of cameos, with Adam Sandler, Kevin Hart and DMX all sarcastically credited as Themselves. Priceless spot: Jerry Seinfeld, in a strip club, trying to be bling, ending up blong.

A merrily ferocious pop at the Hollywood bubble that balances sharp, acid laughs with a sweet, believable meet-cute. Top of the pack and Chris Rock’s best movie.