Top Five – 4.25 stars

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Very funny, very raw, often insightful comedy written and directed by Chris Rock. Rock stars as a facsimile of himself, a Hollywood success straight out of the mean streets of NYC, returned home on the eve of his made-for-Bravo wedding to a reality star (Gabrielle Union) and the opening of his shot at a serious film after making his fortune in broad comedies (the most successful of which is the Hammy the Bear series, which delivers a running joke, as everywhere Rock goes, you hear “hey, Hammy!”). Four years sober, Rock is accompanied on his return by a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson).  A convincing love story ensues as Rock opens up to her about his rise, fall, fears and regrets.

The film starts off a bit choppy, mainly due to the fact that Rock has to carry most if it. Rock has a winning smile and a wicked perceptivity, but he carries the armor and remove of a lot of comics, so his manner is a bit stiff, forestalling investment. But soon, Rock gets in his element, as he is surrounded by a dozen very good comics to play off. He loosens up in the second half, which allows him to reach deeper to connect with Dawson.

Rock borrows liberally from Judd Apatow’s Funny People and evokes Woody Allen’s chatty vibe (Rock’s back and forth with Dawson on the real reason for Martin Luther King’s assassination is alone worth the ticket and emblematic of their clever repartee) but he also writes strong, emotional moments which resonate stronger and longer than the gags, in particular, Rock’s reconnection with his father.

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