Generally speaking, Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder" is a stupid movie. This fact does not keep it from struggling to be smart, or being pretty funny in the process. The film starts with three fake previews and one fake commercial, which is something I have never seen before (though the idea seems stupidly obvious), and all four are laffers. Edit: Oh, yeah -- it is obvious -- "Grindhouse" did it a while back. The first preview is a lampoon of sequels, with Ben Stiller's character playing his action hero character for the fifth time, this time with baby seals strapped to his chest. The second is a surprisingly direct condemnation of Eddie Murphy being the Anti-Matter of funny for the past decade. The third is the best: Robert Downey, Jr.'s Oscar winning character playing a gay monk opposite "MTV Awards Best Kiss Winner Tobey Macguire." Pretty good beginning, followed by a pretty good first twenty minutes of the actual-fake movie, which, as far as I can tell, is the only well-written sequence for the next two hours.
The film has all the ingredients to be a high-larious comedy: Danny McBride as a foul mouthed pyrotechnic guy? Check. Steve Coogan doing his thing? Check. Silly Tom Cruise cameo? Check. Robert Downey, Jr. being the genius that he is? Check check check. Like practically every comedy these days starring genuinely funny people, though, something is lost in the execution and all this funny is mixed in with long distances of mere tittering, or bored half-laughter. Steve Coogan once said that he cut and reworked one of his live shows as the character Pauline Calf to have a big laugh from the audience every 11 seconds. If only "Tropic Thunder" had such discipline.
(note the cheap black joke in the poster)
The story is simple: it is a movie about a movie being made, but the movie-in-the-movie isn't going too well, so they decide to shoot it guerilla style, and instead get dropped into a real war which the actors think is actually just a very realistic movie being made. Got it? Good -- because the logistics of what is actually going on get dropped by the way-side very quickly since the director literally gets blown up by a landmine, and the actors are left to fend for themselves. Whether that means following the script or just wandering around is up to them, and the rest of the jokes (appropriately) have just about as much focus. I don't exactly think that Ben Stiller is an inherently funny guy -- a lot of his stuff is over the top, and he is at his best when his energy is being harnessed and honed (see: "The Royal Tenenbaums"). His directing is exactly the same way: high energy, little structure, and too much going on.
The bulk of "Tropic Thunder" is this slew of ridiculously offensive, raunchy, and politically incorrect jokes, many of which are really, really funny. Just to give you an idea of just how ridiculous, here I will describe a very brief joke: Jack Black has a problem -- he is addicted to crack -- and he takes out a pack of heroin but! A bat from out of the jungle steals it away! Jack is pissed off, as any addict would be. The bat soon falls to the ground, and Jack pounces mouth-first on the bat screaming "You overdosed hahah!" and proceeds to suck the drug-infused blood of the bat. This joke is just one of seemingly hundreds that are varying degrees of funny. On one hand, this shotgun approach is fairly entertaining, but the film could use a bit of structure to better keep the attention of the audience throughout the long, panda-killing stints in the jungle. The film's episodes are linked by four or five different musical montages, only one of which is truly funny. At worst, the montages help reinforce that the movie may not really know where it is going or what it is making fun of, but at best they offer the difficult life choice we all must go through at some crucial point in our lives: do we stay true our best friend, or do we help assassinate them in exchange for a jet airplane?
The stealer of this offensive show, without any comedic doubt, is Robert Downey, Jr. in blackface. If the movie as a whole is only a 4 or 5 on the funny scale, Downey is a consistent 9 or 10. He has the best one-liners, the best looks, and the most offensive role in the whole ordeal. He pulls it off with his usual grace and charm - except this time he gets to do it in blackface, which, if I do say so, is amazingly funny. The film is a veritable breeding ground for controversy, and I like that aspect of it. Apparently there has been a small uproar and boycott around the film's treatment of the mentally disabled. Stiller's character's previous role was "Simple Jack," who is, to put it bluntly, a buck-toothed retard who says things like "This makes my eyes rain." Ridiculousness totally in stride with the rest of the film. At one point, Downey, Jr. scolds Stiller for going "full retard" in the role and alienating the audience. For those offended by this statement, I offer this sentiment: the guy saying these words IS WEARING BLACKFACE. Don't you realize that the movie is walking a line between making fun and ironizing the act of making fun? Don't have anything better to worry about? What the fuck are you, retarded?
Movie review 5 of 10