It wouldn’t be the first time this question has come up.
In 2007’s “I Think I Love My Wife,” a retelling of “Chloe in the Afternoon” which Rock co-wrote and directed, Rock picks fights with his wife, played by Gina Torres, delivering his lines with bitterness and contempt so visceral and discomfiting he makes it difficult to identify with him, even as an anti-hero.
But “I Think I Love My Wife” debuted after TMZ reported in late 2006 that Rock was having troubles in his real-life marriage to Malaak Compton — the site reported that Rock had initiated divorce proceedings, then decided against filing the paperwork.
Two years earlier in his stand up hit, “Never Scared,” Rock explored the banalities of married life and relationships. “Married and bored, single and lonely,” Rock said in one of the tamer portions of the show. “When you’re married, you want to kill your spouse. When you’re single, you want to kill yourself. Better her than me.” After seeing “I Think I Love My Wife” and “Never Scared,” it was difficult not to walk away wondering about the state of Rock’s own marriage.
In “Top Five,” we see Rock, 49, playing Andre Allen, a comedian who hit his prime in 2005, when he was named the funniest man in America. Following his coronation, Allen releases a trilogy of ridiculous and certifiably awful movies — blockbusters of course. He’s marrying a reality star (Gabrielle Union). He’s on top of the world.
Here though, it seems Rock is drawing more from the comedy world in which he’s been immersed for decades now, not just his own life. You can draw a line from the edgy stand up star who hits paydirt making cinematic dreck to Eddie Murphy, now notorious for the “Nutty Professor” and “Dr. Doolittle” franchises. Let us not speak of the stand-alones: “Norbit,” “Meet Dave,” “A Thousand Words,” “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” — which could be easily characterized as a giant ball of WHUT.
Now, in his present day life, sitting pretty on a pile of cash and visibly disillusioned, Allen decides he’s tired of doing funny movies. “I don’t feel funny,” he says. Allen is being profiled by a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) just as he’s checking out of comedy.
While Rock managed to avoid the cornball trap, he knows a little something about being anointed as America’s top comedian. He’s found his way to projects that are more challenging than “Grown Ups.” He’s right at home in films such as “2 Days in New York,” the relationship dramedy written and directed by his costar, Julie Delpy and in 2011, he made his Broadway debut in “The Motherf**ker With the Hat.”
“Top Five” seems like it will offer a smart, but probably still sanitized, look at the darker side of being a professional funny person, and what it’s like when you just don’t have that in you anymore, or when you simply want to try something else.
Adam Sandler, Rock’s longtime friend and colleague, appears to be navigating the same waters in his own life: 10 years after “Spanglish,” his last well-received dramatic role, Sandler is in “Men, Women and Children,” a sobering limited-release film by Jason Reitman.
“Top Five,” out Dec. 5, looks promising. It’s certainly got a crack cast — Dawson, Union, Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove, Taraji P. Henson, Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Sherri Shepherd, and Whoopi Goldberg all make appearances. Sandler does, too.