Friday, September 19, 2008

Tropic Thunder (2008)

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Ben Stiller is one of the funniest, most talented people in Hollywood, but his resume has played out like Ryan Howard's career; a few homeruns and a whole lot of strikeouts. Tropic Thunder, however, is the funniest movie this year among some strong competition, and is a classic that puts Stiller at the top of the comedy scene with the likes of Ferrell and Apatow. Stiller steps behind the camera in Tropic Thunder for the first time since Zoolander, directing an ensemble cast of Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride, and newcomer Brandon T. Jackson. Stiller penned the script with Etan Cohen (not to be confused with Ethan Coen of Coen Bros. fame) about a group of actors who are sent to film a war movie. When the director (Coogan) feels that the project is suffering due to lack of motivation, he strands the troupe in the Vietnamese jungle and the line between acting and reality starts to blur. The film is an amalgam of satire and original storyline, and Stiller mixes in gag humor, witty punchlines, and countless references to past war films. Tropic Thunder is way smarter than Hot Shots but not as topical as Dr. Strangelove, and the result is a movie that is loaded with laughs of all varieties. The cast is incredible, as Stiller, Black, and Downey Jr. form an amazing squad, playing stereotypical actors far from their real-life identity. Stiller is hilarious, as usual, and plays a hothead, doofus action-star somewhat similar to some of his past roles such as White Goodman in Dodgeball (and looks surprisingly jacked). Jack Black turns in one of his best performances as a drug-dependent comedian/actor, and newcomer Brandon T. Jackson manages to hold his own among the stars as Alpa Chino. Its hard to quantify Robert Downey Jr.'s performance, who plays Kirk Lazarus, the only "real actor" of the bunch. Lazarus is so committed to his role that he "becomes" a black man, and like Lazarus who he plays, Downey Jr. is so entrenched in the role it is easy to forget the man is actually white. The performance is instant comedy legend; Downey Jr. is so good that literally every one of his lines is funny, everything he says becomes a joke. Tropic Thunder packs a surprise attack, however, that is outright brilliance; cameos. There are many guest appearances, but there are two major stars playing large roles (unmentioned in the credits and promotion of the movie) that are both lights-out, laugh-out-loud performances. Overall, the film relies much more heavily on strong, intricately detailed comedic performances than profanity and vulgarity, and Tropic Thunder is more of a "film" than most of the funniest comedies from the past few years. There is plenty of profanity and obscene violence to elicit an R rating, but the dirtiness simply complements great acting and writing, instead of replacing it. The film has a cohesive feel that shows that everyone involved embraced the project, and features such as three fake commercials/previews that precede the film are clever and add to the depth of the characters. Stiller's script is the funniest he has ever written, and the story that goes along ties together all of the character's flaws and strengths for a well-rounded, surprisingly compelling plot. The laughs hit hard and often, as Tropic Thunder is a classic war comedy that has more to say about the state of Hollywood than war.

Good for: Stiller fans, war movie fans, anyone with a sense of humor

Bad for: some Will Ferrell fans, the easily offended

The Gallery
The Economist: * * * * *
The Surfer: * * *
The Writer * * * *

1 comment:

Ron said...

Nice use of the word amalgam.