Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Yet another comedy receiving critical raves. Would it be mildly amusing like Forgetting Sarah Marshall or would it squander its potential like Pineapple Express? Up to now, my favorite and funniest comedy of the summer has been Adam Sandler's You Don't Mess with the Zohan, so I wondered if Tropic Thunder would live up to the hype.

Damn right it does!

The audience at the Sunday morning showing I went to see was laughing from the beginning faux trailers (heck, one person was chortling at the Martin Scorcese/AT&T turn off your cell phone PSA!) through the closing credits (with Tom Cruise dancing to Ludacris' Get Back which then segued into The Crystal Method's The Name of the Game). The movie, co-written, directed and starring Ben Stiller, is unceasingly over-the-top silliness. It's gorey, profane, politically incorrect and unbelievably hilarious.

Much has been said about Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as a multiple Oscar winning Australian actor whose dedication to his craft has him dying his skin to play the role of a black character. Personally, I thought he was very funny (albeit difficult to understand at times), but showed his real acting chops when he was effortlessly doing his Aussie accent as Kirk Lazarus rather than his shtick as Lincoln Cyrus. Or was it Cyrus Lincoln? Downey Jr.'s wordless emoting during the trailer for "Satan's Alley"--which "features five time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus!" and "MTv Best Kiss Award winner Tobey Maguire!" had me in tears. The laughing kind...

But let's give credit where credit is due: first and foremost to Ben Stiller (along with co-writer/producer Justin Theroux and writer Etan Cohen) whose twisted brain came up with the idea to do a movie-within-a-movie (within a movie?) spoof on the Hollywood action movie genre--as well as movie trailers, entertainment "news," Oscar-bait, venal studio chiefs, obsequious agents, pyrotechnics, rappers, commercialism, product placement, etc. His portrayal of fading action star Tugg Speedman is right up there with Downey Jr. in setting the tone for tongue firmly planted in cheek. Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson hold their own as well as supporting cast members in the Vietnam-set action flick. Jackson's "Alpa Chino" constantly butts heads with Downey Jr.'s Lazarus over his portrayal of a black man:

Alpa Chino: Maybe I just knew I had to represent...
Kirk Lazarus: Hot damn!
Alpa Chino: ...because they had one good part in there for a *black* man, and they gave it to "Crocodile Dundee"!
Kirk Lazarus: Pump your brakes kid, that man's a national treasure.
Alpa Chin: Why don't you throw some shrimp on the barbie?
Kirk Lazarus: You about to cross some fuckin' line!
Alpa Chino: I'm sorry a dingo ate your baby!
Kirk Lazarus: Don't joke about that, that's a true story. A woman's baby died!
There's Nick Nolte doing grizzled veteran Four Leaf Tayback and Danny McBride as a trigger-happy special effects guy. Matthew McConaughey oozes unctousness as Tugg's glad-handing agent and Tom Cruise is fearless as the spewing, gloating and dancing studio chief Les Grossman. I don't know why some reviewers said he was unrecognizable. Yeah, the bald head looked more like Jeffrey Katzenberg than Ethan Hunt but it wouldn't have surprised me even if I hadn't had already known going in. Still, I have to give the man props for going out all to deliver the goods.

Oh did I forget to mention Jack Black? Probably because his character of Jeff Portnoy was the weakest link in the movie. There were brief cameos that made more of an impression than Black's drug-addicted funnyman. Otherwise the film is filled to the brim with sight gags and zingers, frenetic comedy and frantic action plus a great soundtrack (Rolling Stones Sympathy for the Devil, Edwin Starr War, Spencer Davis Group Give Me Some Lovin', and my favorite, The Temptations Ball of Confusion to name a few...) in a story that manages to both send up Hollywood and honor the cheesy action flick. The explosive ending sequence alone looked like something out of a Michael Bay movie!

This is so far--and by far--the funniest movie of the summer. For me, it was also the best action flick with more bang for my six bucks than Iron Man (which I loved!) and The Dark Knight combined.

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