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TROPIC THUNDER (2008) ** movie review by COOP

Posted on August 18th, 2008
Posted on August 18th, 2008


One overwhelming thought occupied my mind while watching “Tropic Thunder:” The future of Tom Cruise’s career now officially terrifies me. Many viewers won’t recognize Cruise right away as layers of latex make his mug, and even his body, ugly. Perhaps for the sake of his career, you’re better off not recognizing him at all. “Tropic Thunder” has so much star-power behind it; you’d think it was a comedy slam dunk. Instead you get too many comedy gourmets souring the soup in what should’ve been the best laugh fest of the year.

“Tropic Thunder,” the biographical story of Vietnam vet Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), scores a Hollywood dream team to round out the film version of the story. Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), a washed-up, incompetent action star takes the risky lead role to make up for his offensive bomb, “Simple Jack.” Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) is a multiple Academy Award-winning method actor who takes his role as an African-American sergeant so seriously he dyes his skin brown and refuses to break character. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) enters the cast as a heroine addicted, Chris Farley/Eddie Murphy comedy clone who breaks from his “The Fatties” franchise to pursue dramatic roles. When director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) gets desperate due to the prima-donnas bickering and ruining his million dollar scenes, Four Leaf offers a solution: Film the rest of the picture “guerilla style,” dropping the actors in the bush and capturing the action from remote cameras. The shoot goes wrong when a local drug smuggling operation mistakes the actors for a DEA strike team and puts the clueless thespians in a real life or death situation.

All of the cast members play parodied versions of themselves except for Stiller who fails to convince on any level he could pull off his action star alter-ego. Downey immerses himself in his method acting Aussie-turned-black character so deeply that it’s easy to forget who you’re watching. He delivers the best of the lines and accounts for the majority of the funny scenes. Jack Black’s distracting character spends most of the film either high or going through painful withdrawals, making him a burden. The rest of cast delivers maniacal performances akin to the leads resulting in a movie so chaotic; it never finds its heart.

Tom Cruise delivers the most baffling performance as Les Grossman in an over-the-top parody of stereotypical cutthroat producers. He spews nonsensical obscenities and dances to gangster rap as he threatens his underlings with physical and sexual assault. A serious actor should see this as a one-note gag more adaptable to Mike Myers or some other once great comedian whose dignity is on the downslide. Not Cruise who appears to revel in his manic, negative reputation. He cuts a loony dance jig during the end credits, reminiscent of the gopher in “Caddyshack.” No fooling, it’s that embarrassing.

This film sparked controversy for its supposed insensitivity to the mentally handicapped, stemming from Stiller’s character “Simple Jack.” Protesters shouldn’t take it too seriously as the film attempts to point out how Hollywood exploits mentally handicapped characters as “Oscar bait” for mercenary actors trying to secure awards (i.e. Sean Penn in “I Am Sam”). This results in immature attempts at humor like Simple Jack calling his dreams “brain movies” and tears “rain from my eyes” through a pair of false, bucked teeth. It’s well known this type of humor is common in lowbrow comedies and I’m surprised the activists leapt on this issue faster than Downey, in blackface, spoofing African-American stereotypes.

The film has so many comedians assaulting the screen with their shtick that afterwards I felt like I had been beaten up with a flurry of jokes and gags. This attempt at satire disintegrates into obnoxious slapstick, gross out humor and prods at pop culture. “Tropic Thunder” has more in common with the “Scary Movie” franchise than other meta-Hollywood films like “Bowfinger” or “The Player.” I wish Stiller, Downey Jr. and Black would have played themselves as characters in this ridiculous situation rather than cartoon parodies of themselves. This could’ve resulted in a more clever and satisfying film for the audience with the actors making fun of themselves directly. Imagine Tom Cruise pulling that off.

Granted there were a few genius moments such as the fake commercials/trailers that introduce us to the past works of the fictional cast (Lazarus’s gay medieval monk drama, “Satan’s Alley” being a highlight). Equally uproarious is Downey Jr.’s explanation of why audiences and the Academy rejected Stiller’s “Simple Jack.” Then there’s the rest: Gross-out humor, baby assassins, Mathew McConaughey playing Wii Bowling. It all doesn’t add up to a decent picture.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Trailer below…

-Coop

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