Monday, August 18, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder is crude, over-the-top, absurd, crass, inappropriate and uneven, but it is funny as hell. It’s the first comedy of the summer where I laughed my butt off.

The Big 3

When I first heard of Tropic Thunder, all I could think of was Three Amigos with Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Marin Short. It’s not a re-make, but it basically has the same plot. A group of actors are mistakenly thrown into a real war situation. While Three Amigos was cute and had a few funny moments, (“In-famous is when you’re MORE than famous. This man El Guapo, he’s not just famous, he’s IN-famous! ”) Tropic Thunder is hilarious. This time the three stars are played by Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller, and Jack Black. The big 3 work well together; they each have their own style, and in the end, they provide us with the top comedy of the summer.

Tropic Thunder sets things off the right way by spoofing generic Hollywood movies. Do not miss the trailers or you will miss 10 laugh-out-loud minutes. There’s even an advertisement for “Booty Sweat”—a Red Bull-like drink brought to you by the fictional rapper, Alpa Chino. The comedic energy comes at you so quickly that by the time the real movie begins, you can’t wait to watch it.

One of the reasons Tropic Thunder is so enjoyable is because the movie within the movie is actually interesting. The action scenes are fun and feel like they’re part of a real war film. There are a few scenes that lack laughs, but at least they keep the story moving along.

Stiller plays the main character, but he shares plenty of screen time with the big 3. In many of his films, Stiller tries way too hard to entertain us. But in Tropic Thunder, he is busy directing so he allows the actors to step up and carry the load. He has the ideal cast to let everyone do their schtick. Downey Jr. is as funny as he seems in the previews, Jack Black’s physical humor provides some of the biggest laughs in the film, (look for the scene where he’s tied to a tree half-naked.) and Stiller has some choice lines. All of it makes for a grotesque and hilarious comedy.

That’s Offensive

Apparently, people were protesting Tropic Thunder because it was deemed offensive towards those with special needs. Are you kidding me? If you’re gonna protest a movie, protest Eddie Murphy newest bomb, Meet Dave. That movie is offensive. Why can’t Eddie Murphy make good movies anymore? Classics like Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, and Coming to America have been replaced by Norbit, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and Meet Dave. Now that’s what I call offensive.

In Tropic Thunder’s case, some are upset because one of Ben Stiller’s character’s is a special boy named Simple Jack; he is simple and he is hilarious. The joke isn’t on those with special needs. The joke is on the Hollywood actors and movies that cover the subject and fail miserably—think Cuba Gooding Jr. in Radio. I’m a pretty sensitive guy, and I wasn’t offended. I actually loved the character and could not stop laughing. Comedy is pretty simple in that way: if something crosses the line and makes you laugh, it’s funny. If something crosses the line and it doesn’t make you laugh, it’s offensive. I laughed so it clearly wasn’t offensive.

Finally, There are Straight Men

There are five actors/soldiers in the movie. Besides the Big 3, there is Brandon Jackson as the rapper Alpa Chino and Knocked Up’s Jay Baruchel as the skinny, geeky guy. These guys do a nice job of playing it straight so Downey Jr., Black, and Stiller can use their own unique over-the-top style humor whenever they want. It keeps things fresh and makes room for more antics from the Big 3. It also helps that the characters aren’t complete idiots. They slowly figure out that something isn’t right with the “movie” they are in. This prevents Tropic Thunder from resorting on the same gag again and again. As a result, the film uses a variety of jokes and dialogue to keep the laughs coming.

Inside Hollywood Jokes

Tom Cruise plays the big Hollywood producer. I didn’t realize it was him until the credits came up. He is a bit excessive as the stereotypical, money-hungry, unethical movie mogul. His antics provide a few laughs, but aren’t anything special. Considering Cruise is a top-billed actor, it is cool that he played the part and it wasn’t publicized at all.

Nick Nolte has a small but memorable role as the war vet in which the “movie” is based on. He makes the most of his part, and is yet another funny character to add to the mix.

Matthew McConaughey plays a bit part as Stiller’s agent. He plays a nice guy version of Ari gold from Entourage. There are some inside comedic bits about the Hollywood scene, but overall his character doesn’t add much. But he does offer the ladies someone to look at during the few scenes that aren’t funny.

Tropic Thunder continues its satire on Hollywood until the very end. It pokes fun at several movies including Apocalypse Now (and Heart of Darkness.) The deeper Stiller’s character falls into madness, the funnier he is.


I was surprised how much I liked Tropic Thunder. I’m not a huge Ben Stiller fan especially when he plays quirky characters (Zoolander, Dodgeball), but this movie was very entertaining. The movie gives us tons of comedy, action, and even a story.

It definitely hits high on the movie scale because I still laugh when I see the previews on TV. I plan on seeing the movie again and am looking forward to re-watching it on cable countless times. It’s a bold prediction, but it may even break my top 150 favorite movies. It’s got stiff competition so we’ll see…but it’s definitely the best comedy of the summer of 2008.


Shawn said...

Wow! Very thorough and positive review.

I think the difference in our opinions is the quality of the big 3. Downey Jr. is awesome, but personally, I like Stiller over the top, which is why I thought his funniest part was the intro trailer. Jack Black? Useless. The "My ass" scene at the end was the only part of his where I even chuckled.

RT said...

I'll wait for the DVD.

A Beautiful Contradiction said...

I really liked "Tropic Thunder." I thought it was a smart comedy. True, there were some inside jokes that maybe not everyone would understand, but that happens in many movies.

I agree with Shawn that I prefer Ben Stiller when he is almost unbelievable as a person, i.e. in "Zoolander." (Still a classic.)

Jack Black was the downside for me. Usually, I love him, but something about his character just did not connect with me.

Great in-depth review!

Nick said...

I felt pretty much the same way as you did about Tropic Thunder. I just posted my review of it if you want to check it out. We even made mention of the same Jack Black joke where he is tied to the tree. I didn't care much for Stiller in this movie. His direction and writing were great but I thought he could've done more with his acting

Joshua said...

I liked Tropic a lot, Paul, but against your wishes I'm siding w/Pineapple as far as comedy of the summer. I got it :)

movie junkie said...

Robert Downey Jr. cracks me up... he's got a knack for not taking himself too seriously

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