Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tropic Thunder

“I don’t read the script. The script reads me.”

In an attempt to teach their spoiled stars a lesson the director (Steve Coogan) and author (Nick Nolte) of the new war film send the actors into the jungle where they encounter real danger and are forced to fight for their lives.

The platoon is led by action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) whose career is on a downhill spiral. His choices for roles outside his chosen genre (with his insane amount of sequels), such as a mentally-impaired farm hand called Simple Jack, have earned him scorn and tanked at the box office.

He is joined by renown five-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.). The Australian actor has gone through a controversial medical procedure to play the African American platoon seargent (and becomes hopelessly lost in the role). Rounding out the group are comedian turned actor Jeff Portney (Jack Black), music star and candy and cola pimping Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and character actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), the only one who has read the script or done any research on the project.

The film is a parody of war films (including Platoon and Apocalypse Now) and of Hollywood itself. The film’s sly jokes about trailers, Hollywood marketing and politics, why an actor should never go “full retard,” a short but sweet moment of Jack Black hilariously crapping all over Eddie Murphy‘s recent career, and star behavior on the set, have more than a little truth behind them. Tom Cruise gives a terrific over-the-top performance as a drunk with power studio head, and Matthew McConaughey has a nice role as Tugg’s agent who is forced to choose between his star client’s well-being and loads of cash.

Although all the cast is great Downey steals the show. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him having more fun with a role, and he goes all out for this performance. There’s been some Internet flack (all by those who haven’t seen the film) on the role, but there’s no malice here, just plenty of humor in a film which takes nothing seriously.

Although terrifically funny at times the film isn’t perfect. Although Jack Black has some funny moments his character is limited, and we grow tired of him acting crazy all the time (though I will remember his scene with that bat for a long time). I could also have used a bit less dancing from Cruise, and the script overall needs to be tightened-up in places where it gets off-track from time to time. Even with these small complaints, it’s an easy recommendation to make.

Tropic Thunder is an immensely enjoyable flick which is perhaps only one more rewrite away from becoming a great comedy. Though it gets off-track at times it always manages to find its way back with terrific moments, espically from Downey. It’s not quite as good as last winter’s parody Walk Hard (read the DVD review), but it’s similar in how it uses outrageous humor, and some damn funny moments, to spoof an industry that too often takes itself a little too seriously.

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