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Tropic Thunder: Riders on the Storm of Absurdity

Posted by goldwriting on August 18, 2008

One of these things is not like the other, err..well, it is, but it’s not. (hint: one of them is British)

When the whole world is ranting and raving over the dark, brooding charisma of a vigilante crime fighter, where could we possibly turn to finally end the majestic run of the bat? Well, look no further than the most politically incorrect big-budget comedy in years. I guess five weeks of the gloom and doom of Batman finally did get us wondering, “Why so serious?”. Tropic Thunder rolled through the digital clouds this weekend and into theaters nationwide. It barely cleared the opening weekend take of recent R-rated comedic kin, Pineapple Express, but since Tropic Thunder was made for a ton more money people are wandering around claiming it was a letdown. Look, it took the #1 spot away from The Dark Knight, which had held it for five weeks, and claimed the spot for itself. No matter what amount of money it took in, this was still a success in its own right.

But let’s not focus on money, since it is the root of all evil (but I’ve been trained to handle it, so feel free to rid yourself of any and all unnecessary evil and send your spare money to me). The real success story for this film is the writing, the acting and the sheer brilliance of stupidity skipping and frolicking its way through the jungle. Jumping off the launching point with the fake trailers created for the fake actors in the movie, you already know you are in for something different, something that pushes the envelope of political and social commentary and satire. Tropic Thunder takes unabashed shots at Hollywood, not only for its reputation for prima-donna actors and bumbling directors, but also at its own tendency to turn any poignant social commentary into cannon fodder for the Oscar season. Critics want to brand the movie as insensitive to any number of groups, but what they refuse to see is the lambasting of Hollywood and its own culture as the root of the satire.

Intelligent writing will get your foot in the door, but it’s the actors who are going to have to walk through it. Performances from left to right were all above par and some were down right sensational. Robert Downey Jr. got a helping hand from the instant buzz created the moment people heard he was going to play his character in blackface, but once again the satire of the film keeps it from coming off as incredibly racist. Also lending a hand is Brandon T. Jackson, playing his rapper/actor crossover character Alpa Chino, who comically tries his hardest to correct the historic stereotypes Downey uses to embody his African American roots. Dropped into the lap of a less dedicated actor, the blackface would have completely failed and indeed come off as racist, but Downey confidently walks through the film totally unashamed, which allows the audience to feel unashamed at laughing at him. Ben Stiller, who also took the directing helm for this wartime parody, equally dove into the deep end of the pool with his action hero’s level of total obliviousness to the world around him. Feeling a little like the reverse of the situation in Hot Fuzz, where one man was sane and the entire town was mentally inept, Stiller provides a good deal of the less subtle humor. The only negative twitch I had here was the suspension of disbelief is stretched incredibly thin with Stiller. I could buy the totally out-of-touch actor persona, but once dropped in the legit war zone, it’s a little tough to buy Stiller continuing to live in his action film dream world. Jack Black comes through in the end of the film with his physical comedy king character, but he felt wildly underused for most of the film. Surprisingly, driving the plot and the story along was Jay Baruchel, who was the only mentally stable person in the entire film and he turned in a great performance.

Peeking around the corner of the frame, the cameos in the film are almost overwhelming. Steve Coogan, who should have had a much bigger role, was relegated to mere minutes of screen time, yet he made the most of them. Matthew McConaughey helps paint Hollywood agents in their bleakest light to date, while Bill Hader appears under the veil of the lowly studio-head assistant. Danny McBride, who is having the year of his life right now, steals scenes left and right as the pyrotechnics expert alongside Nick Nolte as the grizzled true life persona of Ben Stiller’s lead role. Saving the most notable cameo for last, Tom Cruise makes a triumphant return to the big screen as an overweight, unbelievably hairy, booty smackin’, cuss tossing Hollywood Studio exec. The hidden genius in this role is every moment he is talking smack about over-pampered actors and how they need to be treated, you know he’s poking fun at himself. Word on the street is Tom recently dropped out of his next action/spy thriller in turn for another comedy after hearing the positive buzz about his Tropic turn. If his career makes a dramatic upturn in the coming months, Tom honestly owes Ben Stiller a crisp million dollar check.

Topping off the whole experience is the great cinematography from John Toll and a wonderfully worked soundtrack, which brings the audience back to the time of epic war movies, but equally reminds us we are watching a send up of that very time period. I can’t say this is going to take in tons of money since the humor might be missed by people not familiar with the inner workings and insanity of the entertainment industry, but I hope there is enough kicks to the balls and fart jokes to keep the rest of the world happy.

Recommendation: It’s worth a look see. Save a couple bucks with the matinée ticket if you can, but check it out in the theater. The jungle, the explosions, the ridiculous trailers all work better in that environment.

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One Response to “Tropic Thunder: Riders on the Storm of Absurdity”

  1. marcys said

    I like your writing style!

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