Tropic Thunder

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tropic thunder
Ben Stiller (left) and Robert Downey, Jr. play actors making a war picture.

I’ve always said that my favorite comedies are ones that are realistic. It’s so much more fun to watch a movie like Tootsie, which has its humor deriving from other realistic situations that don’t involve Dustin Hoffman in a dress. For example, the scene with him arguing with his agent about not getting a play, or asking out Jessica Lang out at a dinner party. You take a movie like Mrs. Doubtfire, and it’s a crazy, over-the-top comedy that is only mildly amusing.

And that’s exactly what you have here with this movie that’s sort of a parody of the Apocalypse Now and Platoon type of war pictures, as well as sort of becoming one of those, while making a movie within a movie. It has enough laughs that everyone is going to love it. I just think it falls short, subplots don’t work as well as they should, and you leave the theatre a little disappointed. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have some big laughs, though.

The movie starts with a humorous introduction to the three “actors” that are in this movie, in what appear to be trailers for other movies. It’s a clever start and fun way to meet action star Tugg Speedman (which sounds like a gay porno name). He’s played by Ben Stiller, the co-writer of this movie, as well as producer and director.

There’s a five-time Oscar winning Australian actor that’s big on the Method way of acting. That’s Kirk Lazarus (which sounds like a preachers name), played by Robert Downey, Jr. He has his skin dyed black, since he’s playing a black soldier. He also never comes out of character, and his interpretation of what a black man sounds like, is offensive to the rapper of the group (and probably will be offensive to some in the audience).

Jack Black plays Jeff Portnoy (the name seems to fit him). He does the kind of comedies you think of Eddie Murphy doing now – lots of fat suits and fart jokes.

Steve Coogan is fun as the British director working on his first movie with these big names. He’s also got the always amusing (but not always funny) Danny McBride, who is an explosives expert (an expert that is missing one of his ears). Nick Nolte plays the soldier, that became an Indian, in which this war movie is being based on.

Tom Cruise plays the angry studio exec that yells about everything going wrong on with the picture. He’s also trying to get us to forget about dancing on Oprah Winfrey’s couch, and have us remember when he danced on the couch and in his underwear in Risky Business. You’ll have to stay for the closing credits for that.

The movie was most entertaining when it was lampooning the film industry, as oppose to just becoming a crazy action picture itself.

Matthew McConaughey has a funny role as an agent making all kinds of demands for his client (and you thought Van Halen wanting the green M&Ms backstage was demanding).

There are scenes where Jack Black is going through heroin withdrawals that have you laughing, and feeling guilty for laughing. In fact, there are a few scenes like that. One of the funniest involved Stiller talking to Downey about a movie in which he played a mentally challenged farmer that thinks his animals can talk to him. Stiller doesn’t know why the critics crucified him, and Downey explains how to play somebody with a disability. He mentions all the actors that have played somebody mentally challenged, and points out that none of them “…went full retard.”

Now, this scene has already created an uproar, protests, and negative stories about the movie. Yet what they don’t realize is…these are two idiotic actors, so we expect them to say dumb things. We’re laughing at their ignorance. It reminds me of how strange it was to find out Bill Cosby hated the show All in the Family. He didn’t like the fact that Archie Bunker was racist – instead of laughing at the fact that Bunker being a racist boob, has us laughing at him, not with him. In doing that, doesn’t it help teach people how ridiculous it is to be racist?

This led to me having an hour long debate with a woman at the LA Times who wrote a story about that scene. It was a civil debate, but she never saw my side of it. Her bigger concern was that it’s yet another pop culture reference that’s going to have people using the word “retard” in ways they think is funny, but others find offensive.

The movie could’ve been a lot funnier, and by the 3rd act I thought it became tiresome. It was the perfect way to parody Hollywood, but should’ve toned it down a bit and made a more serious comedy.

Don’t be surprised if Tom Cruise or Robert Downey, Jr. get a “Supporting Actor” Oscar for the characters they play. The Academy doesn’t usually show love to comedies, unless it’s in the supporting roles (think Marisa Tomei for My Cousin Vinny). We know Heath Ledger is going to win for playing the Joker, but hey…they’ve got to nominate four others.

This movie gets a B-.

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