Because of Chris Rock's Top Five, you'll soon see Jerry Seinfeld make it rain in a strip club. Not a Score's kind of club—picture Jerry inside the Bronx's Sue's Rendezvous' biggest Manhattan competitor.
And now the good news: you won't have to wait long to see Seinfeld's Comedians in Strip Clubs Getting Lap Dances. When the Toronto International Film Festival concludes this weekend, Top Five will stand as its biggest out-of-nowhere breakout. In the fest's priciest distribution deal, Paramount Pictures has just picked Rock's latest directing effort up for more than $12.5 million. The closest acquisition behind Top Five: the Ben Stiller/Naomi Watts hipster-skewering comedy While We're Young, another genuinely funny TIFF highpoint that's been snatched up A24 Films for $4 mil.
That's pennies compared to what Rock's film is now worth, and it's understandable why Paramount dropped so much coin on it. A quintessential crowd-pleaser, Top Five is TIFF 2014's most broadly appealing and swiftly entertaining world premiere. It's Chris Rock's Annie Hall, but instead of Woody Allen's Big Apple neuroses and smaller scale, Top Five is made for a generation raised on reality TV, rap music, and glossy pop culture. Moreover, Top Five seems largely indebted to Rock's old friend Louis C.K.; its meta feel and slice-of-life approach to Allen's walk through NYC are straight from the Louie playbook—except that Chris Rock's book is Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists. Top Five operates on two primary levels: it's a somewhat autobiographical character study but also an excuse for Chris Rock to show off his hip-hop jones and Yo! MTV Raps cred.
Rock plays Andre Allen, a Hollywood star who's like an amalgamation of Rock himself and Chris Tucker. After launching a massive stand-up comedy career, Allen became a movie star in a silly franchise called Hammy the Bear, which found him in a large, scraggly bear suit playing cops and robbers with co-star Luis Guzman. His three Hammy movies were worldwide juggernauts, but now Andre wants to be taken seriously. His latest film is Uprize, a "serious" play about the Haitian Revolution he hopes can become the "Haitian Django," since, by Andre's count, north of 2,000 white people are killed on screen. But the early reviews are scathing and the box office tracking is poor. Hoping to help Andre's image, his agent (Kevin Hart) sets up an all-day profile interview with hotshot New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) on the eve of Allen's highly publicized wedding to Bravo reality star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union).
Also written by Rock, Top Five doesn't have the most coherent story. What begins as a breezy two-hander between Rock and Dawson, with flashback scenes to Andre's booze-abused past and interludes with Allen's family and friends, gradually turns into a clunky romance. The ridiculous plot twist that prompts Chelsea to illogically drop all journalistic professionalism and jump Andre's bones is Top Five's worst example of Rock reaching too far into shock humor. It involves Workaholics star Anders Holm on a bed, spread out on all fours, and buck-ass naked. At yesterday's TIFF screening, it led to a few walk-outs from people who probably thought they'd entered another Toronto prestige picture and not Chris Rock doing the type of idiotic raunch you'd see in a Kevin Smith movie not about walruses.
Those same people probably didn't care much for Top Five's steady talk of KRS-One, CL Smooth, and Gang Starr, all of whom are referenced in the movie's best scenes. Chris Rock isn't much of a rom-com writer, but he's the real deal when it comes to staging naturalistic moments of people just shooting the shit, more often than not with a boom-bap edge. Top Five is Judd Apatow infused with Jigga.
In an interview detour, Allen takes Chelsea back to old Brooklyn apartment building to hang out with his cousins and closest friends; two of them are played by Tracy Morgan and Jay Pharaoh. They spend most of their time together debating over who the best rappers of all time are and naming their "top five" best MCs of all time; Rock, via Andre, picks "Jay Z, Nas, Scarface, Rakim, and Biggie," with LL Cool J as his sixth man. In a later scene, Chelsea's getting Andre's thoughts on a variety of influential entertainers as they ride a subway train, about Charlie Chaplin, Allen says, "He started this shit—he's the KRS-One of comedy."
Two other scenes incorporate hip-hop in ways that'll be catnip for rap blog headline writers. Andre's bachelor party is thrown in a neon-coated, booty-crowded stripper den; in one of the private table areas, he discusses marriage and pre-nips with buddies Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, and Whoopi Goldberg. When Future's "Same Damn Time" starts playing, your boy Jerry Seinfeld starts tossing dollar bills in the air like the Jewish Pac Man Jones. He also name-drops Wale, clearly showing that the Maybach Music rapper's The Mixtape About Nothing work with Jerry wasn't just a one-off gimmick. (Seinfeld's favorite rappers ever, divulged in Top Five: The Sugarhill Gang, Eminem, Wale, and Sir Mix-A-Lot.)
As for the other headline-ready scene, it's the best thing a certain jail-prone rapper has done cinematically since Hype Williams's Belly. The specifics are best left for you to see when Top Five opens in 2015, but Allen ends up in prison, and the guy in the cell across the way is none other than DMX. Andre asks X, "What are you doing here?" DMX's response: "I'm X, homie—I live in this motherfucker!" It's an amazing and bizarre moment that's had film critics doing the unexpected this week: praising a DMX performance at the Toronto Film Festival. Per LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholson's Twitter, "The breakout comedy star of TIFF is DMX."
And the breakout filmmaker, it turns out, is, weirdly enough, Chris Rock. Heading into a festival boasting starry new projects from acclaimed directors like Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Jean-Marc Velle (Wild), and David Cronenberg (Maps to the Stars), the comedian who directed Head of State wasn't on many critics and buyers' minds pre-TIFF. Nobody could have expected the star of Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2 to emerge as the fest's MVP.
Before TIFF, that would've sounded about as likely as ever seeing Jerry Seinfeld get ratchet to a Future song.
For more of Complex Pop Culture’s coverage of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, click here.