>> Tropic Thunder (7.5/10)

Tropic Thunder

Summer, 2008.  Year of the Downey Junior.  Tropic Thunder‘s biggest selling point in its advertising campaign is Downey’s character, Kirk Lazarus, a white method actor who undergoes surgery to become a black man for the Vietnam film-within-the-film, also titled Tropic Thunder.  Downey is amazing in this role.  It sort of sneaks up on you, but he’s Oscar-worthy amazing here.  It’s more than a blackface gag; it’s an actual role.

Tropic Thunder is fascinating in that way.  It’s the smartest dumb comedy in ages.  Its targets–big budget filmmaking, the churning, grinding show biz machine and its effects on the personal identities of those within the machine–are rich and its aim is spot-on.  It’s high-concept comedy, the type that goes over great in a Hollywood pitch session.  “What if a bunch of actors with conflicting personalities, all sharing the lead roles in a war movie, are accidentally left stranded in a war zone?”  But beyond that pitch, there’s substance here, and pointed satire.  And, on the surface of that, there’s dozens of vulgar gross-out gags and jokes about the metally handicapped (make that hilarious jokes about the portrayal of the mentally handicapped).  It’s a film with a lot of layers.

Co-written and directed by Ben Stiller, who also appears as waning action star Speedman alongside Downey and Jack Black as coked-out comedian Jeff Portnoy.  Jay Baruchel and Bradon T. Jackson round out the main cast, with Baruchel as a young actor in his first big role and Jackson as rapper-turned-actor and Booty Sweat energy drink spokesman Alpa Chino.  Both are great alongside comedy veterans like Stiller and Black, but the best supporting cast members are the two unadvertised mega-stars that Tropic Thunder uses as secret weapons.

I won’t tell you who they are here, but with a little research you’ll be able to find them if you absolutely must know.  One of the roles is a massive step forward in career damage control for the particular actor in the part.  He throws aside his public image with gusto, to take on the part of a balding, overweight, foul-mouthed movie exec with a heart of ice.  He’s Tropic Thunder‘s main villain; a bastard who has all of the power to save his actors that are lost in the jungle, but refuses to do so due to bottom line costs.  The other actor that I mentioned isn’t given as showy of a part, but still manages to move away from his image by simply appearing in a film like Tropic Thunder, taking a break from his never-ending stream of mediocre romantic comedies to hang out with the real guys.  It’s a welcome change for the both of them, and their scenes together are mind-blowingly bizarre.

This brings me back to those themes of identity.  Not only are they written into the script itself, but they are there in the mere casting of two supporting characters.  This kind of thought really makes Tropic Thunder into something special.  It’s more complex than I expected, but its complexity is sort of sneaky and easily overlooked during all the funny quips and explosions.  This is the kind of multi-layered comedy where some people will only get the obvious laughs, while others will find amusement on the almost “meta” side of the film–the part of the movie that deals with what it means to be a celebrity.

I don’t know that I had any full-on belly laughs during the film, but I grinned the entire time at the audacity of the thing.  It’s a movie with guts (literally and figuratively), an action movie disguised as a comedy disguised as a mediation on the cult of personality.  It’s very entertaining, and makes me love this Summer’s crop of blockbusters that much more.  I wish every Summer could be 2008.

7.5 on a 1 to 10 scale


1 Comment

  1. I wish every other season could be 2007

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