Andre Allen doesn't want to be funny anymore.
It's a problem, given that the guy's a comedian. Dre caught his star on the stand-up comedy circuit, making people laugh so hard their martinis squirted out their nose. He made a trio of ludicrously successful flicks in which he dresses as "Hammy the Bear."
But while all that funny brought in the money, those furry salad days were also filled with booze and drugs and too many half-remembered nights. Now clean and sober, Dre's trying to take both his life and career in a different direction. These days he's just as famous for being engaged to reality TV star Erica Long. Bravo expects their made-for-TV nuptials to be ratings gold, and Erica plans to parlay "'til death do you part" into a few more minutes of fame.
"If it's not on camera, it doesn't exist," Erica coos to Dre as she puckers up for a televised prenup smooch.
But the wedding's not 'til tomorrow, and Dre has a new movie coming out today. It's called Uprize—a gritty depiction of a Haitian slave rebellion that killed, we're told, 50,000 white people. There's not a single bear costume in the movie—which makes it so annoying to have to put up with the press and fans all asking him when he's going to crank out more of that Hammy hilarity.
The day gets worse when Dre discovers that his agent's set up an hours-long rolling interview with Chelsea Brown, a reporter for The New York Times. Thing is, Dre hates the Times. After all, its nasty film critic once said he wouldn't watch another Andre Allen movie if it were playing on his glasses.
But Dre's agent insists, and the funnyman resigns himself to his unfunny fate.
When Dre learns that his fiancé swapped out their wedding bands because (she says) Bravo wanted something more telegenic, Chelsea says wearily, "Everything's for sale." "Everything's not for sale," Dre says. He wants this marriage to be for love, to be his one-and-only trip down the aisle. And when someone ribs him over what he might do differently for his next wedding, he takes offense.
Dre and Chelsea are both alcoholics now four years sober. Both have worked hard to push the booze away and turn their lives around—Dre for his life and sanity, Chelsea for her young daughter.
The movie also explores what it means to be honest and open and vulnerable in the midst of a society hidden behind facades. (I'll get into more detail about that in the Conclusion.)
Crosses are seen hanging in apartments. A Jewish comedian, when spotting a scantily clad waitress at a strip club, says hi to her by name—then tries to explain that she goes to his temple. When Chelsea asks Dre what he thinks of Richard Pryor, Dre marvels at the late comedian's honesty by saying, "Even Jesus didn't tell his followers everything."
In flashback, Dre recalls an early morning roll in the hay with two women, saying he "couldn't believe that God blessed me with these two angels." Which leads right into …
… the fact that said "angels" were performing oral sex on Dre. The whole flashback (which Dre characterizes as his lowest point) is incredibly sordid. The women are shown completely naked (audiences see breasts and backsides) and the camera lingers on a great deal of simulated, three-way sex. Another man then barges into the room and essentially pushes Dre aside to consummate his own graphic ménage à trois. The aftermath involves seeing soiled sheets and hearing about the money the women were promised.
Chelsea, who says she's had lovers of all races and kinds, including two women. She learns that her boyfriend is gay or bisexual, catching him in a hotel with a mutual friend. There's explicit talk and suggestive images (some of them revealing more nudity) related to anal sex and assault. Dre and Chelsea kiss passionately in a club bathroom, their hands down each other's pants. Dre's Bravo-televised bachelor party takes place at a strip club, and we see bare-breasted, thong-wearing women walking around in the background.
Discussions about homosexuality run rampant in both serious and mocking ways. One man has a fetish for large women. Crude and obscene jokes and comments are made about infidelity, ejaculation, exotic dancing, faulty body parts, anonymous sex, intergenerational "romances," sex toys and masturbation. Everything from feathers to hot sauce gets into people's private crevices. Dre rifles through Chelsea's phone looking for naked pictures. Erica makes sure Dre knows that the sexual favors she does for him come with long strings attached.
Dre's car is smacked by a taxi. In a rage, he destroys a Hammy display and is carted off to jail. In the trailer for Uprize, people wield machetes.
Crude or Profane Language
Add any number of f-words in the background rap music to at least 80 in the dialogue. We hear more than 40 s-words. Also: "a--," "b--ch," "d--n," "h---," "p---y" and "d--k." The n-word is thrown around, as is God's name (the latter sometimes combined with "d--n").
Drug and Alcohol Content
Dre and Chelsea are sorely tempted to return to the bottle in the movie's most stressful moments. We see Dre fall off the wagon at one point, but we also see him valiantly resist. And Chelsea compares alcohol to meth.
Other people are shown drinking beer, wine and mixed drinks, sometimes to excess. And in flashback we see Dre drink heavily. He and others smoke pot, too. There's talk of people consuming cocaine and drank (cough suppressant mixed with alcohol). We see Dre lying passed out on the floor. Chelsea talks about hitting rock bottom when she started drinking Sterno. Dre grapples with the fact that since he was always drunk or high when he did his best comedy, he simply won't be able to be funny without the stuff. Hammy the Bear is used to sell beer.
Other Negative Elements
Jokes take jabs at racism and disabilities. Lying, cheating and stealing all show up.
It's a rare thing in Dre's world, where success is predicated on a certain amount of public obfuscation. Top Five stresses, almost in every scene, that people are not who they always seem. We see it in Dre and Erica's telegenic-but-less-than-sincere wedding. We see it in Chelsea's litany of pen names. In her boyfriend's secret life. In Dre's penchant to hide behind a persona—be it in a bear named Hammy or the serious gaze of a serious man. When Dre finds a series of books about Cinderella in Chelsea's apartment, the point is driven home again. At the ball, after all, Cinderella wasn't who she seemed to be, either. Or was it perhaps her scullery maid self that was the lie?
So when Dre and Chelsea begin to talk—first as interviewer and interviewee, then as friends, then as something more—what marks their conversations is their halting, sometimes startling honesty. Dre promises to give Chelsea unscripted answers. He reminds her that a part of their Alcoholics Anonymous program is to be scathingly truthful. And when the inevitable betrayal of those principles comes to pass, it feels all the more brutal.
In keeping with that theme, let's be honest now: Top Five (named for characters' penchant to rattle off their favorite rap artists) is a surprisingly cogent rumination on what honesty and deception can look like today in a world where reality television is far from real and everyone, not just actors, seems to be playing parts. But it's also a sexually salacious, offensively obscene and sometimes deeply discouraging exploration of that same culture—where the characters think more about what to have for dinner than whether they should have sex on the first date; where even when priorities are sound they get warped in translation.
I'd like to like this movie more, if that makes sense. When a film has something interesting to say, I like to give it credit for saying it. But what this movie says does not mitigate what it shows. And that makes me sad. Honestly.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Chris Rock as Andre Allen; Rosario Dawson as Chelsea Brown; Gabrielle Union as Erica Long; J.B. Smoove as Mr. Allen's Security Guard
December 12, 2014
March 17, 2015