Damon Smith enjoys a tale with understated flair

Every film carries a certain weight of expectation for the audience, based on the calibre of talent in front of and behind the camera, as well as word-of-mouth.

More often than not, dreams are silently crushed when reality unspools at 24 frames per second on that big cinema screen.

So it’s a genuine thrill when you find a feature that exceeds its promise, delivering a tale with understated confidence and flair.

Top Five sounds like the worst kind of vanity project: an insider’s portrait of modern celebrity, directed and written by Chris Rock, in which the stand-up comedian turned film star plays a stand-up comedian turned film star, who wants to be taken seriously.

Art and life walk hand-in-hand here and they are the best of friends because this occasionally filthy-minded comedy is smart, knowing and laugh-out-loud funny, concealing a heart of gold behind a blistering barrage of polished quips.

Admittedly, in his role as the ringmaster of this delightful circus, Rock allows too many showbusiness chums to flash their pearl whites – DMX, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld cameo as themselves – but they don’t distract from the tender love story at the heart of this little gem.

Rock plays Andre Allen, star of the hugely successful Hammy the Bear film franchise, in which he plays a cop in an animal suit with the catchphrase, “It’s Hammy time!”

Audiences and the film studios are hungry for another instalment, but Andre is attempting to reinvent himself by headlining a serious drama entitled Uprize, set against the turbulent backdrop of the Haitian Revolution.

Promotional duties for Uprize inconveniently coincide with Andre’s forthcoming wedding to reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), so naturally, cameras are tracking their every move.

So too is reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who has been granted a rare audience with Andre, even though her newspaper has been less than kind in the past about his work.

The spark between Andre and Chelsea is palpable and, as the day unfolds, they trade cheeky banter, confirm his wedding preparations with Erica’s manager, Benny (Romany Malco), and give the slip to Andre’s bodyguard, Silk (JB Smoove), so they can spend some quality time with his friends, including ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Sherri Shepherd), who knew him before he was famous.

Galvanised by the smouldering onscreen chemistry between the two leads, Top Five is snappily scripted by Rock, who generously distributes the best lines and in-jokes among his ensemble cast.

Dialogue has a natural rhythm that feels like we are eavesdropping on the characters mid-conversation, particularly in crowded scenes where Andre and his coterie argue about their top five favourite rappers.

A couple of smutty interludes, including an explosion of bodily fluids courtesy of Cedric The Entertainer, don’t detract from the underlying, irresistible sweetness.

Top Five (15)   
Directed by Chris Rock
Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, JB Smoove, Cedric The Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Anders Holm, Sherri Shepherd, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld