Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tropic Thunder: Review

“Hot damn.”

Not much time, so I'll make this fast.

Tropic Thunder was one of the few movies I was keeping track of. From the moment I saw the first preview, I knew I’d see the film the day it opened. An all-star cast, a huge budget, and legitimately funny jokes? It’s about damn time. As it drew closer, we were teased with a short skit by the three major roles, Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and Jack Black. Yesterday, I met up with a few friends and we headed to the theater as a “final-day-we’d-all-see-each-other-before-heading-back” event. I was very disappointed when, opening night, there was only about five other people in the theater, while every other film was decently filled. Hopefully, it was just because it opened mid-week, because this movie deserves to be seen.

Before the film even starts, we’re treated with fake trailers for the latest movies from Tugg Speedman (Stiller), Jeff Portnoy (Black), and Kirk Lazarus (Downey), all of which are hilarious takes on what Hollywood has become today. Then, the film really begins, but with more of a whimper than a bang. Sure, there are a few chuckles now and then, but nothing spectacular. It’s not until twenty or so minutes into the film that it really takes off. To sum up the plot details, three actors from different backgrounds (Speedman the action hero, Portnoy comedy, and Downey as very respected character actor) are hired to film the translation of “Tropic Thunder”, a book by famous Vietnam vet Four Leaf Tayback. Unhappy with the pampered, pompous stars ruining the shots, Tayback and the director decide to go for a more gritty approach by dropping them in the jungle and telling them to just go with the flow. Unbeknownst to the entire crew, however, is the presence of an armed group of locals.

Tropic Thunder lampoons Hollywood while never becoming a full spoof film. It stands on its own. It’s filled with so many bust-up laughing moments that you won’t be too put off by the more vulgar attempts at humor (especially the much-billed executive cameo, which wears thin pretty damn quickly). Jack Black seems like he was wasted on incredibly poor or boring dialogue. He has a moment or two, especially towards the end of the film, but he could’ve been so much more. Stiller does a fairly good job at landing jokes, with only a few groaners scattered throughout. The real treat here is Robert Downey Jr. who, more or less, makes the film. In glorified black-face, Downey finds a way to come off as completely hilarious with out being offensive. He’s kept in check by Brandon T. Jackson, a rapper who’s bitter that the only leading role for an African American was given to a white Australia-native. Downey has so many one-liners and out-there monologues that he carries the whole film on his back. Humor also comes from smaller bit parts and sight gags (when I saw “Black Power” and fist on Downey’s helmet, I couldn’t help but crack up).

The film, while not perfect, is still genuinely funny and one of the best comedies of the summer. Tropic Thunder sports a Fu Man Chu (4 out of 5).

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