My Movie News

Thoughts on Tropic Thunder

Posted on: September 10, 2008

A few weeks ago the Dark Knight was finally dethroned after dominating the box-office for most of the summer. It was bound to happen eventually, but I was hoping it would break more records, say, the longest-running number one movie in history for instance – you know, something like that.

Maybe film-goers got tired of draping their summer days with so much darkness, tired of being “so serious”. Perhaps they were ready for a film that could deliver more by way of raucous, provocative fun, crude, uninhibited humor; a film of the pungently offensive variety without all the silliness and stupidity of “Disaster Movie” (and all its variations).

That film came storming in the form of Tropic Thunder, courtesy of Ben Stiller accompanied by a notorious cast including Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte and “My Hometown” hero, Montreal’s own Jay Baruchel. By now everyone knows about Tom Cruise’s covert appearance, which was cleverly concealed during the marketing process. His performance is quite outrageous and somewhat embarrassing, yet I applaud the man for his rowdy antics in the film. I didn’t think Scientology permitted such vulgarity! But religious beliefs aside, Tom’s a  cool guy, and his role did generate a lot of internet buzz, and that I suppose, translates into more dividends for movie execs (which coincidentally, is what he plays in the movie).

Buzz seemed to be what carried the film along for a while. At first, I wondered what the entire hullabaloo was for. There was so much controversy surrounding the film, with all the protests and headlines. Then came the accolades. Rolling Stone called it “…a knockout of a comedy that keeps you laughing constantly”, while I was still waiting to emit a heart-felt chuckle. Juvenile nonsense, I thought, just another distasteful satire trudging on treacherously offensive territory. Yes, it is offensive, that can’t be denied.  But the truth is the laughs eventually arrived, and when they did, they plummeted like a tropical downpour – sporadically, yet forcefully.

Robert Downey Jr. is responsible for inciting much of that laughter, thanks to an irreverent character, brilliantly portrayed, further extending his thespian range. He’s practically the focal point of the film, as though all humor hinges on his screen presence, regardless of whether or not he delivers the funny line. He’s Kirk Lazarus, an Australian Oscar-winner who undergoes a skin pigmentation process to turn himself black. Sure, political correctness might label it racist, or tasteless, but it’s clear the intentions were not malicious. His character is completely oblivious to the racial implications and innapropriate overtones. Besides Ben Stiller knows better, and probably assumes the audience does as well. The line between hateful and humorous can often be ambiguous, but unlike Michael Richards, he manages to teeter that border and come out the better end. What shocked me the most about Stiller however, were the size of his arms – they were huge! An instant Joey – Whoa! – moment, right there.

Jack Black is also very funny. Especially when he tries to be funny – which is all the time, like in all of his films. But of course, that is to be expected. Jack does here what he does best – make people laugh. Well, he makes me laugh, anyway. With his blond mop, and that eternally quizzical expression he wears. It’s kind of, dare I say, cute. Like a panda. A cuddly, clumsy, heroin-addict panda.

Jay Baruchel, and Brandon T. Jackson are fine contenders amidst their heavyweight counterparts. In fact, their inclusion is what saves the film from being a completely tawdry catastrophe. I can only imagine what debauchery might have ensued had these young’uns not been present to restrain the man-boys from their relentless lunacy. Case in point, it is Jackson’s character who tells Kirk “You’re Australian – be Australian!”

In the end however, it’s not a movie I would rush to see again. But if someone happened to be watching it on DVD, I would dash in to see all those funny parts, those moments of gut-busting, lung-exhausting hilarity. But of course, I wouldn’t stay there for long, because while the merriment is many, it sure isn’t plenty. Yes, the movie does gain momentum at the first hit of laughter, but like any storm, it eventually dies down, leaving in its wake a flurry of debris and destruction, or in this case, just the faint suspicion that one could’ve waited for the rental.


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