Tropic Thunder (2008)

August is drawing to a close, which means schools are re-opening, pools are closing, and movie companies start releasing Oscar hopeful films rather than blockbusters. But before the summer of 2008 disappears forever, one more movie attempts to right something that has been wrong. In a summer movie season filled with superhero flicks and other random action films, we have yet to receive a comedy that will have us rolling in the aisles. Tropic Thunder, a passion project Ben Stiller has been working on for years, will not make you fall out of your chair, but is however the funniest film of the summer. On the set of the most expensive war movie ever made, rookie director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is having trouble keeping his narcissistic cast in check. Just 5 days into shooting, production is already 1 month behind. Action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is having trouble recovering from his recent film Simple Jack, which was a box office flop and was bashed by critics. 5 time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), an Australian actor, underwent a procedure to darken his skin so that he could play the African American platoon leader called for in the script. Fart joke comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is trying to break the mold of gross out comedy, but has trouble keeping his mind during filming because of his drug addiction. After being violently screamed at by movie executive Les Grossman (Tom Cruise like you've never seen him before), director Damien desperately takes advice from Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), the war veteran that wrote the book from which the movie is based. Tayback suggests that in order to get real emotion and an authentic feel, the cast should be dropped in the middle of the Vietnam forest where some controlled explosions and gunfire will challenge them. But no more than 5 minutes after they land, the cast is thrust into a real war zone with Vietnamese drug lords...they just don't realize it. When Tugg Speedman is kidnapped, Kirk, Jeff, rapper turned actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and newcomer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) must save their comrade from certain death. If you have seen commercials for Tropic Thunder, you probably don't think it looks very funny. Do not be fooled. Tropic Thunder is very funny and at some times hilarious, and has lots of fun action to satisfy your needs.

Just last week, Judd Apatow attempted to blur the genres of action and comedy together in Pineapple Express, but didn't succeed to the fullest extent. The trouble was his film had too many sagging points. Ben Stiller, who wrote and directed Tropic Thunder, made sure to add as many jokes as possible to keep things funny. This can be a very risky technique, as we've seen in You Don't Mess With the Zohan, where Adam Sandler crammed jokes into every orifice of that film but didn't land any hits making it unbearable to watch. Tropic Thunder has its share of misses, but not nearly enough to make the film droop. When jokes did hit in Tropic Thunder, much like Pineapple Express, it was hilarious. What makes Tropic Thunder better is the fact that is was continuously funny. There were less gaps in the comedy. Stiller did the correct thing in not letting the action overtake the film, and even during the action sequences the comedy never ceased. He also filmed everything very tastefully, not really glorifying the bloody part of fighting. Keeping in line with the rest of the film, Stiller kept things funny. Before the film even begins, we are treated to a series of hysterical fake advertisements and movie trailers starring the characters from the film. Once the film starts, show patience, as the first 15 minutes aren't particularly interesting. After you make it over that hump, Tropic Thunder becomes roaringly funny and endlessly entertaining.

What makes Tropic Thunder an above average comedy is some of the terrific performances displayed in it. One person who does not give one of those performances is Ben Stiller. His character Tugg Speedman is after all a slow witted tough guy, but he is actually the straight man in this film. Tugg is also a bit annoying because he took way too long to figure out that his kidnapping was not part of the film. Nobody can be that stupid. Providing few jokes (even fewer that are actually funny), one wonders why Stiller didn't write himself some better material. Another lackluster performance was that of Jack Black as Jeff Portnoy. Black is a rambunctious comedy actor, but his role is too small to allow him to show any type of range. His drug addiction is pretty much the only joke he delivers, and it isn't even that funny. The one exception being when he is tied to a tree and he says something that is just awful and hilarious. One of the better performances in Tropic Thunder is given by Brandon T. Jackson as the rapper who endorses a drink called Booty Sweat and a candy bar called Bust-a-Nut. Surprisingly, I found him very entertaining to watch and he had quite a few laugh out loud moments in the film, specifically in his interactions with Downey Jr. In a role that you would probably never have imagined him in, Tom Cruise has been earning praise as a show stealer as Les Grossman. I wouldn't call him a show stealer, but Cruise's over the top potty mouth performance was quite enjoyable and very uncharacteristic of him, which made it even funnier. Also a surprise, Matthew McConaughey randomly takes a supporting role as Tugg Speedman's agent Rick Peck. The role originally was meant for Owen Wilson, but he was forced to drop the film after his attempted suicide last year. McConaughey isn't exactly what I would call a "good" actor, but his concern for his client provided some extra laughs and probably McConaughey's best performance of his career. (That is not saying much). But the man who completely ran away with this movie is Robert Downey Jr. I'm sure when 2008 began, he had no idea how much of a household name he would become at years end. Playing an Australian actor that is playing a black man, Downey Jr steals every scene and delivers every line with consistent hilarity. The role of Kirk Lazarus was written to explore and make fun of how actors immerse themselves into roles, and Downey Jr perfectly exemplifies immersing himself into the role. He created a character that was extremely hilarious without being racist or offensive. Every character in the film had a stale line or two (Stiller had a lot of those), but not Downey Jr. He hits the right note every time, taking comedy through a whole new frontier.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the release of Tropic Thunder. Protests from groups supporting those with disabilities have plagued the film and no doubt had an effect on its weekend gross. (The film only took in about 26 million, it deserved much more). People are outraged over the use of the word "retard" in the film. They feel it is demeaning to all people with mental disabilities. Now that I have seen this movie, I can say without question that this film in no way offends mentally handicapped people. As somebody with a relative who has down syndrome, I did not feel angered by their use of the word retard. I laughed the entire scene. The word retard in the film is not used in a derogatory sense. Nobody says "You are a retard" or "That was retarded of you". That would be offensive because the line would be meant to be insulting to the person hearing it. Instead, Tugg Speedman and Kirk Lazarus discuss Tugg's role in his film Simple Jack, in which he did play a retard. (Notice how I have no problem using the word, because I am not using it to offend anybody). The whole purpose of the joke is to make fun of how actors will take on roles as handicapped people because they are hoping to get an award from it. The scene was actually extremely clever-minded and witty as Kirk explains to Tugg that there is a certain level of retardation you have to play to get an award, and that there is a certain point that can't be crossed. That joke is not aimed at retarded people, but at the actors who take advantage of the roles of retarded people. Honestly, I do not think you will be offended by this scene unless you are extremely overly sensitive. If Al Sharpton didn't freak out because a white actor was playing a black role, you probably won't freak out from the use of the word retard.

Tropic Thunder might not be every one's cup of tea, but it happened to be mine. Even with a slow first 15 minutes and the weak performance by Stiller, Tropic Thunder is the summer comedy we have been waiting for. At 107 minutes, time is not really a factor because you will spend most of it laughing. Ignore the bad press for this film caused by those disability groups and head to the movies for a good time. I have a feeling you will not be disappointed. I also feel that Robert Downey Jr. should be nominated for some type of award. Maybe not an Oscar, because that's a little extreme. Something less important, like a Golden Globe. It just doesn't seem right that his performance goes unrewarded. It was so perfect. My rating (7.5/10)

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't very crazy about Tropic Thunder, which was a dissapointment because there is so many great actors in it.

    I just wanted to tell you that your writing it great- but its hard to read because the font is in black and the background is a dark blue.


Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange