Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Tropic Thunder" - REVIEW


When actors try to be become directors, or even writer/directors, the results usually aren't the best (Gone Baby Gone being a notable exception). Because of this, it makes it all the more refreshing to find that "Tropic Thunder" is not only a hysterical late Summer comedy, but also a showcase for Ben Stiller's talents as a comedic director and co-writer. Even though the movie is a big budget comedy, Tropic Thunder's biggest success is that is spares no one; it takes its big budget to bite the hand that fed it. Instead of simply lampooning the process of making a movie, Stiller and his two co-writers manage to sneak in extra jabs at overblown action, comedy, and drama flicks via a series of hilarious mock trailers that play before the movie actually "starts" (along with a fake commercial advertising the obscenely titled new soda and candy from a fictional rapper). Now, with these sorts of parodies/satires, the general rule is that they are either biting and smart, or simply so-stupid-it's-funny. Tropic Thunder once again avoids the rules and often blends the two types together, resulting in a stupid/smart satire/farce that works on just about every level. Stiller's Tug Speedman, the typical big action star, is an overly pampered brat who has a clause that mandates that he must have TIVO no matter where his current movie is being shot. While complaining to his agent (a surprisinly funny Matthew McConaughey), Speedman remarks, "well, they've got digital cable and high speed internet...but it's just not the same...". Then there's comedian Jack Portnoy (Jack Black) who has to contend with a (very) problematic addiction to heroine, and later, heroine withdrawal. There's also famed rapper Alpa Chino making his big screen debut, along with newbie actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), who seems to be the only one with his head on straight. And then there's the big name 5-time Oscar winning Australian actor named Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) who's been cast to add some dramatic heft to the project; it's in Lazarus/Downey Jr. that the already hilarious movie truly finds its spark. Spending the entire movie made up as an African American sargeant with a perfectly cliched southern-black-voice, Downey turns in his seconds wonderful performance of the year. If "Iron Man" was the perfect way to catapult Robert Downey Jr. back onto the A-list, then "Tropic Thunder" is the more than worthy way to ensure that he stays on the A-list for quite some time. Though he shares the screen with two actors more accustomed to big budget comedies (Stiller and Black), Downey still runs away with the movie (as well as the movie within the movie). Helping things along is the soundtrack, which is also something of a self parody, made up almost entirely of over the top electric guitars and violins. The movie also succeeds in that it manages to not overload us with one particular actor; each one gets his share of funny moments (though it's clear that the writers had the most fun writing for Downey's Lazarus and Danny McBride's foul mouthed pyro-technics expert). Stiller doesn't make the whole movie about him, and shows a lot of talent as a director for the most part. The only times when his directing falters is in the massive shoot out at the end, when the camera is sometimes set up in oddly-angled close ups. All in all, however, the complaints I have are far outweighed by the movie's successes; mainly, that it does what a comedy should do: make me laugh my ass off (even when the dialogue wasn't particularly funny, the tone of the whole project alone was enough to keep a grin on my face). Some may complain about the seemingly sugary-sweet ending. Those who are have simply failed to recognize that the entire movie is meant to be a sendup, and the happy ending is a perfect sendup of happy movies with endings that wrap everything up in a bow. And besides, how could you not laugh at the final scene (I'll keep my mouth shut, but let's just say that it is PRICELESS)?

PS: Look carefully for a slew of great celebrity cameos (namely one by Tom Cruise as a fat studio executive).

Grade: B+

Nominations: Best Picture(#5), Best Supporting Actor - Robert Downey Jr. (#2), Best Original Screenplay(#3), Best Editing(#5), Best Makeup(#2)

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 23

Top 10 of the Year:
1. The Dark Knight
2. WALL-E
3. The Fall
4. In Bruges
5. Tropic Thunder
6. Iron Man
7. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull
8. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
9. Be Kind Rewind
10. The Visitor

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