The movie starts with an opening tracking shot so well done, I was wishing the whole movie would be like that. This could’ve been Chris Rock’s Annie Hall. Having his character Andre Allen ask everyone he meets to name their “Top Five” rappers, could’ve been much more interesting had they mixed it up. In High Fidelity, the cast wasn’t just listing their top five punk bands. It was a variety of lists on various music topics, that ended up also including a list of their top girlfriends. Even if you know who Notorious B.I.G, KRS-One and all the rappers mentioned, it just gets old quick. When a reporter (Rosario Dawson), asks him about his favorite comedians, I was hoping we’d hear some of the comedians in this give their top five for that. Rock almost does, and he ends up providing a strange moment when he says, “Bill Cosby is the best storyteller.”
Another strange moment was seeing the always funny Tracy Morgan, as an unemployed and humorous relative. It had me hoping he’ll make a full recovery, and write a stand-up bit about his accident the way Richard Pryor did after he caught himself on fire.
But back to the movie. Rock wrote and directed this, and he hasn’t had the best track record with previous films. He obviously holds a grudge towards the critics that panned these movies, but he’s the one that starred in Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2! He’s the one that made a bad remake of Heaven Can Wait. He’s also lucky he’s going to get good reviews for this, because it really borrows from an awful lot of movies (he even steals a line, word-for-word, from a Whoopi Goldberg film). The most movie borrowed from was Funny People, which had Adam Sandler playing a former stand-up comedian that made a fortune doing movies, and returns to his roots as a stand-up comedian. For some reason, Funny People didn’t do well at the box office and wasn’t well received by the critics (I loved it). Maybe Rock felt he could do his own version of such a similar story.
As the story unfolds, and we find out he made millions in a police comedy where he wears a bear costume – you just kind of cringe. The movie looks so utterly ridiculous (which was his point), and when we hear people asking him, “When will you make ‘Hammy 4’?”
It’s unfortunate that Birdman just did this in their film, as Michael Keaton’s character kept asking when he’d make “Birdman 4.”
Rock’s fiancé is played by Gabrielle Union. She’s a reality TV star who is more interested in how their upcoming nuptials will play on Bravo. We can instantly see he has more chemistry with the New York Times reporter (Dawson), following him around for a story. When she needles him about not being funny anymore, I wondered why she didn’t rattle off a top five of comedians that used to be funny (Rock’s two good friends, Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler, could’ve been number one and two). Yet Rock only seems to want to knock other things in society. That’s fine, it’s his movie. Yet when nobody goes to see his movie about revolutionary slaves – the scenes just don’t work. The clips we see of the movie look bad, yet in reality, movies that have done similar themes, have done surprisingly well with critics and audiences. So again, how about delving into why Eddie Murphy is no longer funny! Maybe it would’ve been in bad taste to discuss why Robin Williams wasn’t funny in movies in the last few years. Yet when Williams played serious in films, it worked (Dead Poet’s Society, Good Will Hunting, The World According to Garp, etc.).
The missteps this movie makes are really puzzling. Why in the world did Rock go for a cheap laugh when we see clips of his serious movie “Uprize.”? He is hamming it up during fight scenes, in a film that’s about slaves. That worked in Tropic Thunder, because the whole movie was a wacky comedy. It doesn’t work in this, because it’s supposed to be a real movie with serious topics.
Yet with all my complaints, the movie had enough moments that worked for me. Listening to alcoholics hit rock bottom. A visit back to his old neighborhood, and being surprised by some of his relatives (I won’t ruin that, or the many cameos – one of which is hysterical every time he’s on, including the closing credits with his “top five”).
There’s no doubt that Rock is capable of writing strong material. There’s one scene when he’s hanging around his family, and they lament the death of Tupac Shakur. One woman claims that if he were still alive, he’d be a senator. Rock gets that look on his face – half smile, half smirk, before shouting, “We don’t know that. He could be, but…he could also be in the next Tyler Perry movie. Oh, there’s Tupac, he’s playing the bad boyfriend kicking his girlfriend down the stairs. So, he could be a senator, or he could be in a Tyler Perry movie.”
It’s such a brilliant observation and it’s what Rock does best. It’s why his stand-up material is funny.
The cast had two of the funniest people around – JB Smoove and Romany Malco – yet they were given no funny lines. Watching Smoove try to be smooth with every overweight woman that walks by…didn’t work. Yet I do like how he was the personal assistant that obviously cared for Allen and had a long history with him.
Kevin Hart was given funny lines, and he’s great in the scene he has.
Credric the Entertainer continues his stretch with never doing a scene in a movie I haven’t laughed myself silly at. In this, he steals the movie as a sleazy promoter in Houston. At one point he sends two women to Allen’s room – and how that concludes had us all in the audience laughing so hard.
Another problem with this is that Rock just isn’t a very good actor. His emotions seemed forced, and he only seems to have one facial expression. Surprisingly, he has a bit of chemistry with Dawson. I think that’s more a credit to her, since she seems to have chemistry with her leading men in every movie.
The soundtrack worked perfectly. We get the perfect hip-hop songs (nothing like hearing the bass of Digable Planets, while Rock is trying to double-dutch with kids and a jump rope), or having him ride around in a cab with a jazz song playing.
There’s a scene where Allen asks the reporter not to ask “hack” questions. Yet I’d love to ask Rock why he created this unbelievable “Hammy” character in a bear suit, just so he could use the weak and hacky punchline, “It’s Hammy time!”
Yet for every joke or scene that didn’t work, there were three or four that did. That’s a ratio that works for me, so this is a comedy I can recommend.
It gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.