Thursday, February 4, 2010

“Tropic Thunder” – Too clever for most viewers.

I had a lot of trouble deciding whether or not I wanted to see “Tropic Thunder.” On one hand, I can’t stand Jack Black, I can barely stand Ben Stiller, and this movie looked like it could be incredibly stupid and typical of what Black and Stiller often perform in. On the other hand, Robert Downey Jr. is a great actor, he was playing an actor playing a black guy, and the film was supposed to be a satire of Hollywood in general. In the spirit of movie reviews and entertainment, I decided to risk seeing the movie. Fortunately, it wasn’t “Nacho Libre” or “Zoolander.”

“Tropic Thunder” focuses on a bunch of actors that typify today’s Hollywood – they are self-absorbed, preening, high-maintenance, addicted-to-something, egotistical, greedy, uneducated jerks. Did I mention Tom Cruise was in this movie? Cruise plays a studio head who is financing a new movie, “Tropic Thunder.” Black, Stiller, Downey Jr., and a couple other guys are playing soldiers in a platoon, based on a Vietnam veteran’s (Nick Nolte…yes, I said Nolte) book. The director decides to drop them in the jungle, with a basic scene script, and tells them they are on their own to get back. He does this on Nolte’s advice to capture the reality of the jungle. By this point, we have been introduced to all of the ridiculous characters, including an explosives expert who has nearly killed several actors in other movies and Stiller’s agent, played by Matthew McConaughey. I should mention that McConaughey is playing this role as if it’s a preview for his upcoming movie “Surfer, Dude.” Let’s just say he sucked and move on.

I know what you’re thinking…this movie doesn’t sound very funny. If that’s all you care about, don’t bother. I expect most viewers will only see it for silly, superficial humor, and not get what makes this movie clever. They want to see Black be outrageous (he goes through heroin withdrawals) and Stiller delivers his typical “woe is me” jokes (he gets beat with a stick by a child). Incidentally, the child is the leader of the guerrilla bad guys, which is very typical of the kind of witless humor expected from Stiller. I don’t know why midgets and angry children continue to get laughs in this country, but then, I still have a few working brain cells.

There are two pieces of this movie that caused some controversy. One was Downey’s character, an Oscar winning actor who always immerses himself into a role, even to the point where he surgically colors his skin black for his role in “Tropic Thunder.” The other was about a role Stiller’s character had played called Simple Jack, a mentally disabled man. At one point, Downey tells Stiller that “You never go full retard” when they are discussing Stiller’s snub from the Academy. Downey’s “surgical blackness” didn’t cause much of stir, but the “retard” comments did. All kinds of disabled advocate groups started complaining and petitioning for the studio and actors to stop the movie from playing. What these obsessive morons didn’t realize was that the movie was criticizing actors who portrayed mentally disabled people and winning awards for it. Instead, they chose to focus on the fact that the film uses the word “retard” many times. This seems to be the biggest problem with people these days; the inability to look past their own agendas and sensitivities to see what is actually occurring. Remember what happened with “The DaVinci Code?” The religious community decided it was a personal attack on everything they believed, when it was simply a fictional story created on myths and hearsay (which, incidentally, is what constitutes nearly everything these religions want you to believe). I understand their stances, but they need to realize that “Tropic Thunder” is first a fictional story, and second, an indictment of Hollywood. Get over yourselves, put your energies into something worth fighting for, and learn to take a joke.

All in all, the movie was decent, provides some good laughs (and some bad, tired jokes), and gives us something to think about. If actors like Ben Stiller can see the irony and hypocrisy (and humor) in what they do, surely we can too. If anything, Downey makes this worth seeing by himself. That’s why I didn’t spoil any of his lines for you.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back. You’re still overpaying for a comedy that’s not that funny.

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