Tuesday, August 19, 2008

To discuss a movie review: "Tropic Thunder"

You know how some people have culturally ignorant, elderly relatives who make foul, crude jokes not appropriate these days, and you’re not sure if you’re supposed to laugh or cringe?
“Tropic Thunder” is your grandfather.
My grandfather was known to use the "n" word a time or two, which, of course, is a no-no, unless you're a rapper, and then you're allowed to use it all you want in the name of keeping it real.
I laughed very hard several times during "Tropic Thunder," which I saw with my brother and my friend, Adam (the one who crushed me in bowling like Helen Keller competing again Nastia Liukin on uneven bars).
Those laughs were followed by moments of awkward silence as I, and the rest of the audience, decided if it was socially and morally acceptable to laugh at what just happened.
The premise of actor/producer Ben Stiller’s latest movie involves a group of major movie stars who are doing a terrible job filming a war movie set in Vietnam. Trying to salvage the film, the characters of the director and the soldier who inspired the script decide to move the actors to a remote location to get more real-life reactions. Unknowingly, that location is inhabited by violent drug lords, most notably their leader who inexplicably is 12-years-old and sounds as threatening as Joe Pesci in "Home Alone" (also the same height).
Even though the premise alone should have been enough to carry a movie, Stiller makes a point to hit the taboo button over and over. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t:
  • Racism: Robert Downey Jr. plays a “dude playing a dude, disguised as another dude.” His character is an Australian award-winning actor who is so committed to his roles that he completely sinks into them, even when the camera isn’t rolling. To do “Tropic Thunder,” his character plays a black guy, and undergoes skin pigmentation to change his skin color. That leads to a lot of funny moments about racial stereotypes that Downey skillfully tip-toes around to make sure you’re laughing with, and not laughing at.
  • Drug abuse: Jack Black. Oh, dear, dear, Jack. I did love your roles in “School of Rock” and even “Shallow Hal.” But you really only go for one, ongoing laugh in this movie as a drug-addicted comedy star. Black’s character is so addicted to cocaine that not having it for a few hours drives him crazy enough to ask the other movie stars to tie him to a tree. So, as an audience, we’re supposed to sympathize that Black is in withdrawal the entire movie and has no motivation in life otherwise... Black misses a lot of opportunities for jokes. His character stars in a movie just before “Tropic Thunder” that involves him dressing up in fat suits like a bad Eddie Murphy movie (i.e., every Eddie Murphy movie involving fat suits). But when filming “Tropic Thunder,” Black’s character never tries to be funny or does anything that suggests he’s a premier comic talent. He just snorts cocaine, which, coincidentally, used to be what Downey was good at.
  • Mental retardation: Out of all the potentially uncomfortable moments, the prime example is dialogue between Downey and Stiller about why Stiller’s character had gone too over-the-top in portraying a mentally retarded person in another movie-- "You don't go full retard." Downey’s delivery is hilarious, but then, of course, you’re laughing at observations about how to play a mentally retarded person. I’m still not sure how to take that one. The fact that I had to think about it probably gives me my answer.
“Tropic Thunder” delivers on its promise to provide some laughs, spoof on action movies and give great cameos to stars like Tom Cruise and an all-too-brief moment with Jennifer Love Hewitt, who usually does her best work on desktop screensavers.
It’s definitely one of Stiller’s better movies of late, but I wish it would have spent more time with the characters believing they were making a movie.
Almost as soon as the audience gets excited to watch the characters travel around the jungle thinking they are in orchestrated action sequences, when in fact they are being attacked by live bullets, the whole premise changes. Most of the movie stars realize what’s going on and quit making the movie so they can get back to their hotel. Only Stiller’s character remains committed to continue filming.
That’s a golden opportunity missed, because it’s funnier watching the irony of characters unaware of what’s really going on, than it is watching characters who are in on the joke. That’s Theater 101.
Worth seeing? Yes. But leave your conscience at the door. These laughs are frequent but mindless.

  • I'm debating on whether to do a review on '21.' Since it's out on DVD (not in theaters now), I don't know how much interest there is, but I already have a bunch of ideas for the review. I'll leave it up to all of you. Let me know.


elle michelle said...

Inappropriate? Uncomfortable? Awkwardly hilarious? I'm in.

Is this something I should rent instead of see in theaters, so I can laugh without worrying about the people next to me? Ooor just say fuck it? Either way, it's on my list.

Finger Talks said...

Tropic thunder is on my list, for Robert Downey Jr alone. I so love him when he's not on crack.

I just watched 21 and i'm curious what you thought, i vote for do a review.

Andy said...

Elle- Just watch it without fear. You probably could care less either way about what other people think, and really, I usually could care less, too.
Finger- One vote equals a yes, so I'll do that. You better comment on it though. You're contractually obligated.

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie last night, and I must say, I laughed my ass off. There were plenty of times when I thought "maybe this isn't as funny as I think it is..." but the laughter resonating all around solidified the fact that everyone in the theater was as immature and heartless as I am.

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