Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Frank Review of "Tropic Thunder"

Okay, watch this video...

Funny, right? It takes name actors, and gives them material that plays to their strengths. Intended to skewer Hollywood, that video references real incidents and uses them to bludgeon their perpetrators in highly amusing ways.

"Tropic Thunder," the movie this "viral video" was intended to promote, does none of those things. We've got the action star, the method actor, and the strung-out comedian making an extremely expensive Vietnam movie when things go awry. Does that sound broad to you? Downright generic? Then your hearing's fine. That's all you get out of this movie-- one long "in-joke" that everyone got from the poster, and a consistent reassertion of those stereotypes based on the premise they're funny. The whole movie is clearly "supposed to be funny," in the manner of a sitcom, and in as great a need for a laugh track to demonstrate it satisfied someone.

Ben Stiller mugs for the camera in a variation on his "Zoolander" character. Jack Black dials it so far down in his role that it's at best supporting, but at least he's no bother. Robert Downey Jr. never can get past the "dude playing a dude playing a dude" shtick, which he does very well, but would have delivered more laughs as himself. Brandon T. Jackson bounces from one caricature to another, existing solely to legitimize Downey's turn in blackface by offering in-house criticism. Jay Baruchel is our straight man, and as such offers little in the way of humor. Steve Coogan is one of those actors whose presence I find so offensive as to poison every second he's on screen in any movie I see him in. Danny McBride is fun, but has too little screen time.

The movie tries desperately to offend as a source of satire, and fails miserably. Speaking as someone who enjoys Todd Solondz comedies far too much to qualify as a decent human being, all the hubbub over "Simple Jack" misses its most glaring inequity-- that it's just not interesting enough to warrant the attention. The movie derives a chuckle during a dialogue about what a misstep the faux movie was, then unfortunately returns to it as a major plot point. Every moment "Simple Jack" is referenced from there is time out of the life of the audience they'll never get back. That's the true tragedy of its inclusion-- the lack of entertainment value for time invested. It's also an indicator of another major flaw in the film-- finding something funny, and returning to that one thing repeatedly until the dead horse done been beat to smithereens.

The saving grace of this flick is in its plentiful cameos, which I'd rather not spoil, as they succeed in surprising and often amusing. Some are better than others, but all are a welcome diversion from the tedium of spending time with Stiller and company. Still, If you broke down all the best bits in "Tropic Thunder" into a YouTube video, it wouldn't compare to or run as long as the MTV skit from earlier.

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