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Friday, March 6, 2009

(Late) REVIEW - "Tropic Thunder" (2008)

Ben Stiller has never exactly been a favorite of mine. Everything he’s been in from “Zoolander” to “Night at the Museum” has been less than stellar… but certainly Stiller! See? That’s the kind of joke that this man evokes. A bad one. Who knew all it took was giving him a director’s chair and a script chronicling the behind-the-scenes banter of filmmaking we audiences are unaware of?

In an attempt to create a groundbreaking war movie based on the book of war vet, a washed up action star, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), a drug savvy comedian, Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and nine time Oscar winning playboy, Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) embark on a journey through the Vietnamese jungle that’s a little more real than they expect. When Tugg gets kidnapped the cast of Tropic Thunder must rescue him, while a foul mouth, money obsessed producer (Tom Cruise) breathes down the production of the film.

Truthfully, the plot sounds like a recipe for disaster. The movie could have easily been terrible. In fact, by all accounts it should have been terrible. Yet Stiller is able to parody the negative aspects of back-lot/on-location life with a bunch of brat actors so well, it’s hard not to love the film.

Very little is spared from this movie: Racism, mental retardation and homosexuality is added to the absurd mix of impossible Hollywood actors in a fashion “Family Guy” could never get away with. And, you know what? For once it’s funny. “Tropic Thunder” does not apologize for being as politically incorrect and unfriendly to these situations as possible. Nor should it. If you’re too sensitive to laugh about the flaws and obscurities in the world, don’t watch it.

Outside of the somewhat controversial comedy in the film, “Tropic Thunder” takes a hint from the amazing “Hott Fuzz” and shows just how ridiculous summer action flicks are. The difference here is the movie is full of actors, playing actors that are acting out sequences that define their careers. While these sequences are commonplace to them, the film actually makes the audience wonder if the stars have always looked this absurd in action.

As much as Ben Stiller wants to be the star of this film he makes a better director than actor. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of an Austrailian actor, playing a black military hero from the 1960s is the film’s selling point. I’m not entirely sure how he got away with so much praise, but I’m glad he did. If he were any less stereotypical I might argue that he didn’t go far enough… Just saying….

However, I have to commend the audible, and physical return of Tom Cruise. His unbilled performance as a big-shot, short, hairy, bald, money loving, immoral and dancing movie producer is one of the most shocking performances I had seen all year. It nearly got to the point where I wanted to see more of him and less of the Tropic Thunder cast lurking in the jungle. Whenever Cruise was onscreen laughter and alarm attacked my soul. “How could this be Tom Cruise?” I still ask this question, but find it best to accept what’s on screen and move on.

The film’s finale offers exactly what the audience wants it too. Explosions, gun fire, the most gratuitous “character developing” dialogue I’ve ever heard and more Tom Cruise dancing. Well, okay, maybe that last one isn’t what everyone wants, but its there. I won’t say “Tropic Thunder” is comedic genius, but it’s certainly the funniest movie I’ve seen since “Hot Fuzz.” (A hard task to live up too.) In a time where comedies aren’t very funny, especially ones from Ben Stiller, “Tropic Thunder” is able to fly by everything that should have tanked it and become delightfully absurd. Don’t miss the “trailers” at the beginning.

*** out of ****

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