Tropic Thunder (2008) Dir Ben Stiller


Tropic Thunder (2008) Dir Ben Stiller

War.

Is good for:

1 – Tony Stark (pre-epiphany)

2- Plastic Surgery Advances

3 – Movies with lots of muscle-bound blokes sweating, getting blown up, losing limbs, and Jake Gyllenhaal getting nekkid!

With these in mind, Ben Stiller directs and acts in an attempt to send-up all the pretentions of Gritty War Movies. Specifically the jungle-bound likes of Apocalypse Now, Platoon and the Deer Hunter. His other target is the soft, squishy underbelly of Hollywood itself.

To do this he gathers a stellar cast, who really breathe life into a whisp of a script. The tall tale revolve around a bunch of hapless has-been actors, who frustrate Damian Cockburn (Steve Coogan!), their brilliantly named director, so much that he sends them into the jungle to ‘do it for real’. What the director doesn’t realise is that there actually IS a threat in the jungle, and that the four actors might actually have to become soldiers to survive.

It seems hard to mess up this story! But first, are you ready for some more Downey Jnr love? He plays Kirk Lazarus, an Australian Oscar-winner with a bit of a temper **cough Russel Crowe cough** and Kirk has taken method acting to the next level, getting his skin pigmentation changed to play a black soldier. It goes without saying that it’s a joy to watch Robert Downey Jnr lift every scene he’s in, even if his awesome blaxploitation accent is a little hard to decipher.

Not racist. Honest. It’s RDJ being very impressive, sending up pretentious method actors.

And he’s bloody good!

Now, this plays out pretty much like most Ben Stiller movies. Let me qualify this – it’s very Joseph Campbell. Only…not…

Ben Stiller/Hero is feeling impotent as a leader and a person

Ben Stiller/Hero gets a leadership challenge thrown at him

Ben Stiller/Hero fails miserably

Ben Stiller/Hero gets a break after truly believing in himself and other people

Ben Stiller/Hero triumphs & makes a new friend along the way, yay he’s all right!

Ben Stiller/Hero may or may not actually get the girl. But he probably will.

All the while, Ben Stiller/Hero is surrounded by a variety of interesting actors. So, it’s never a terrible movie, and you know what? He’s still vastly superior to Adam-frickin-Sandler. Oh, and these days, he also includes mates from popular British comedy. So as long as the fabulous Steve Coogan has a happy career, I can’t really bring myself to not like Ben Stiller in the slightest!

Now, back to business – Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, a lonely action-movie hero who’s pushed his sequels that bit too far. He plays Four Leaf in the film-within-the-film, and the Tugg character is hoping that this will land him the Oscar after he ‘went full retard’ (to quote Downey Jnr) in his previous film ‘Simple Jack’. Think a sort of ultimate Forrest Gump crossed with Paris Hilton and you’re almost there.

So, you have actors playing bad actors who are trying, badly, to play other people. There are lots of explosions and a great soundtrack, including the underrated Name of the Game by the Crystal Method (well, I was ecstatic anyway). It should work, but as a whole it doesn’t cohere all that well. It’s full of good moments, and is probably best viewed not on the big screen, but in a group or with people who will get drunk with you and giggle all the way through and make your own jokes as it goes.

Things that really don’t work in it are – Tom Cruise’s ugly studio-executive character who, for some UNIMAGINABLE reason, gets to dance during the freakin’ credits. For AGES. Now, Tom Cruise thinks he’s playing against-type here, but personally I CAN buy him as being a shouty asshole even WITHOUT makeup, so having to watch him for any great length of time lost Tropic Thunder some of the sweetness that it seemed to be aiming for near the end. He’s a bad character in this film – and Tropic Thunder could have benefitted from more of a Ghostbuster’s ending, where you just see all the characters chatting and laughing with each other and events being wrapped up.

But no, instead, 5 minutes of nasty gyrating by a gleefully grotesque Tom Cruise. If you see this flick, you’ll see what I mean. Not. As. Funny. As. It. Thinks.

Shudder.

What may have saved it overall is playing it that little-bit straighter. This is how Robert Downey Jnr hopefuly avoids accusations that his ‘blacked up’ character is possibly racist.

It’s no good taking the piss out of Hollywood if you don’t keep that squishy, self-conscious universe ‘deadly serious’. Can you read my mind yet? I’m talking about channelling the ultimate spoof, the king of spoofs, Spinal Tap. It almost manages this in the startling use of trailers right at the start – these brilliantly send-up the likes of Eddie Murphy’s crappy ‘fat suit’ movies, serious Actorly Oscar movies, and brainless action flicks. If it had steered just a little bit more towards this, instead ending in a big puddle of sloppy ham at the end, it would have been an instant classic. However, it’s closest relative is probably Galaxy Quest – although it isn’t quite as good as that, either.

But, it’s still an enjoyable movie. It approaches things like a big, enthusiastic kid – which is how most of the cast come across. While I can’t give it a total rave review, I do recommend pulling up a few beers, an oversized packet of salty snacks, and enjoying the heck out of it. Especially Robert Downey Jnr!

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