What was supposed to be the comedy event of the year ended up being a film that I admired rather than enjoyed.
The plot is simple. A group of actors playing soldiers in a movie titled Tropic Thunder are thrown into live action when the director sets them up in a actual battleground. Still abiding by the script and completely unaware that each attack is real, these actors now must actually survive the movie they are making. Sound funny? Well it isn’t, and I was in a laughing mood.
I respect the audacity to spoof Hollywood characters so directly and accurately. Although each and every one of these characters are obnoxious, they symbolize Hollywood precisely. Ben Stiller (who co-wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the film) is Tugg Speedman, who is in dire need of an Academy Award. Jack Black plays the heroine-addicted Jeff Portnoy, known for his farts, and Robert Downey Jr. plays five time Academy Award-winning Australian actor, Kirk Lazarus, who underwent skin surgery in order to play an African American soldier. Talk about commitment.
Now for the reasons I couldn’t enjoy it. Good concept, bad execution. It’s profane, crude, offensive, and wildly uneven. The use of foul words may work in some films (Pineapple Express, Harold and Kumar) because it is done in a forgivable manner solely because it is funny, but here it just feels labored. Most of the major jokes fall flat (mainly because the high production value used to sharpen the look of the film and fast-paced action strangles the jokes), while the subliminal jokes (Alpa Chino’s Booty Sweat and a drug-crazed bird) manage to be just somewhat funny.
Robert Downey Jr. gives the best performance of his career. His transformation from a blond-haired, blue-eyed Australian to a fast-talking and self-contained African American is phenomenal. It is just too bad that this film is disappointing in the fact that it aggressively puts down the mentally challenged (“Simple Jack” remarks) and so willingly uses inappropriate words for laughs. This is the one comedy in a long time that actually wiped the smile off my face when it used jokes pertaining to the mentally challenged so shamelessly.
A lot of talk is going around about the cameo appearance by Tom Cruise, most of it being positive. Here I go again, being in the minority. The Tom Cruise dance scenes have got to be the worst moments filmed in 2008. I’m not joking. The theater was silent while an overweight, obnoxious, and hairless Tom Cruise was frolicking around to hip-hop moronically. Not too many people in the theater I was attending thought that this was funny. These dance scenes were rather irratating.
This film is a huge disappointment. It just might be the most disappointing film of the year. There is some talent here and there (Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in particular), but the true moments of the film strive for false laughs. It is just too hard to shake off the offensiveness of Tropic Thunder and the film ends up requiring an effort to enjoy. The laughs here feel more strained than ever and don’t have any real bite.
If your really curious about Robert Downey Jr.’s performance, see it on DVD. He is just about all Tropic Thunder has going for it. The tone is very similar to Zoolander, which is a let-down. This is a messy and insanely offensive comedy that generates nothing but controversy and stiff, lifeless laughs. 1.5/5 stars
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