Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Movie Review: Tropic Thunder

It is so rarely that I leave a movie at a loss of words; blown away by amazingness that a proper response isn't possible. I couldn't think of what to write at first, so I looked at a picture of Robert Downey Jr. in blackface for a few minutes for inspiration. I still can't believe that was him, and I still can't believe what a movie this was. Tropic Thunder mixes together every genre imaginable into a hilarious and scathing satire of modern show business.
Tropic Thunder wants so much to convince the audience this is an actual movie being made and all these actors are real so it begins with three fake trailers for the film's three main stars. Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller, also writer/director) was at one time the biggest action star in the world. Soon, audiences grew tired of his ongoing sequels (such as Scorcher I-VI) and his career was totally ruined after a shot at the Oscars with the disastrous Simple Jack, a film about a retarded farmer who thinks he can talk to animals. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is a comedian whose only source of humor is fart jokes, as seen in his Nutty Professor/Norbitesque film where he plays every single member of an obese family of farters. Finally, there's Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr.), a five-time Academy Award winner and method actor on the scale of Brando or Day-Lewis who goes through a controversial surgery in order to play the film's black sergeant.
And I haven't even gotten to the actual plot yet. All of these actors are getting together, either to revive their career, be taken seriously, or win another Oscar, onto a Vietnam War film. Along for the journey is rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson). If you don't understand the joke behind that name, I suggest you don't see this movie. Also tagging along is younger actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel, bearing a striking resemblance to Matthew Modine in Full Metal Jacket).
Successful movie stars? Definitely. Good actors? Maybe. Soldiers...no. The film's director (Steve Coogan) has difficulty with the actors. On the screenwriter/novelist's (Nick Nolte, perfectly cast) suggestion, the actors should be sent away from the set and into the actual jungles of 'Nam and be forced to fend for themselves...without telling the actors of course. Before any of them can figure out they're no longer in an actual movie, a group of Vietnamese drug lords mistake the harmless actors for D.E.A agents and a real war ensues.
With showing the actors outside of their natural setting, the movie set, we get to see what they really are: phonies. At least this group of actors (who may stand for all Hollywood actors) who are so up their own ass that they can't even tell the difference between a set and reality.
Tropic Thunder is one of those movies within a movies, and a total mindwharp as well. We're watching a movie about the making of a movie and reality gets so mixed together with fiction that we don't know whether or not we're watching the movie the actors are making or watching them in real life. Confusing, right? Well, like other great movie within a movie movies (Bowfinger, Get Shorty) the difference is indistinguishable yet the movie is so funny and the satire so great that we don't even notice.
The satire in Tropic Thunder hits every aspect of Hollywood. No one is left untouched. Whether you're a good actor, a bad actor, a comedian, a studio executive, a talent agent or an indie director, this movie will get you. And it's frighteningly real. The fake trailer for Fatties: Fart 2 might as well be following the Norbit trend and Scorcher VI might as well be the latest unnecessary Stallone sequel. 
This film is the second feature in Stiller's directing career. The first was 2001's critically underrated Zoolander. That explored how superficial the world of male modeling was in  way similar to how Tropic Thunder shows how superficial the world of movies can be. Stiller brings a great amount of humor to it with his directing, along with co-writers Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen (no relation to the Coen Brothers). 
The film inside of Tropic Thunder (also called Tropic Thunder) looks like a mixture between Apocalypse Now, Platoon and The Deer Hunter (with many obvious references to those movies). With over-the-top violence, over-the-top emotions, yet a brilliant soundtrack with songs from Buffalo Springfield and Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tropic Thunder looks exactly like the kind of Oscar bait pictures studios produce countless numbers of every year. The actors are no better.
The standout, steal the show performance of the movie is Robert Downey Jr. The former drug addict could've easily fit the bill as any of the washed up stars portrayed in the film but he's had a huge comeback this year with Iron Man and Tropic Thunder. He took a big risk playing an actor playing an African American but he does it just right. The performance isn't mocking African Americans but is instead mocking the method actor the Lazarus is, whose gotten so sucked into his performance that he forgets he's not actually black. Yet Downey's amazing performance keeps us under his spell and you really do forget that it's a white guy under there. Every scene with him is mesmerizing and uncontrollably hilarious, especially the scene in which he explains to Speedman that Simple Jack didn't work because he went "full retard". To keep such a straight face and stay in character so well for a scene like that no doubt Oscar worthy (ironic, for he's making fun of Oscar winning performances).
The other career comeback in this movie is Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise. Mr. Scientology almost reaches the level of Downey Jr. as a fat, sadistic, obnoxious and stereotypical Jewish studio boss. As this character, Cruise says the f-word the most amount of times in a movie since his career first took off in '83 with Risky Business when he says "fuck it". Cruise seems like the last choice for a role like this which is what makes him perfect for it. I'd lost my respect for him the past few years. But, after seeing him do comedy this impressive I'm beginning to respect him again. Mr. Cruise, it looks like you're career has taken a new direction. Stick with comedy. You're fantastic at it.
Thunder has been enduring controversy over the past week, for it's repeated use of the word "retard". The controversy is ridiculous and makes me angry. The purpose of the film is not to make fun of mentally challenged people, but it is making fun of actors who play mentally challenged people to get awards. It is only used to prove how desperate some people are to get their hands on one of those golden boys.
I didn't think there'd be a funnier film this year than Pineapple Express but Tropic Thunder has taken the title. It is even close up with The Dark Knight as the best movie so far this year. It is the satire this generation has needed. The Blazing Saddles of the new decade. It's a spot on depiction of it's own industry and the ridiculousness of the race to try to win an Oscar. Tropic Thunder bites the hand that feeds it and doesn't let go. It's not trying to incite any change but reflect on the time it was made in. Hopefully after seeing this, people won't be asking for an actual movie of The Fatties and will instead be telling Cuba Gooding Jr. to never go "full retard" ever again.
For Your Consideration: Robert Downey Jr: Best Supporting Actor

1 comment:

Thomas Watson said...

Ben Stiller has always been the comedy genre’s Stallone, and just as the action star’s every major success has involved him being the underdog and smashed up guy, Stiller’s success has been made out of being the butt of the joke.