happening out here. What it is ain't exactly clear…okay,
it seems like thanks to a federal law, every movie about
Viet Nam has to include that song, along with a little Creedence
and the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil."
knows these laws inside and out. Yet he observes them while
obeying one higher - make your audience laugh. With Tropic
Thunder, the writer/director/star pushes the envelope
of comedy, creating one of the most consistently funny films
in a long time.
as a parody of Viet Nam movies and a satire of Hollywood
- no easy combination -- Tropic Thunder also proves
itself everything Pineapple Express purported to
be. Strip away the comedy and the story by Stiller and Justin
Theroux would still work as an action movie. It even has
drug references thanks to the substance abuse of America's
most beloved fat comedian, Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black).
The tubby star
of The Fatties needs this Viet Nam movie to boost
his career, and in this he's joined by Stiller's Tugg Speedman,
a failing action hero whose previous attempt at acting credibility
resulted in "…the worst movie ever made." Why five-time
Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) would join
these idiots seems unclear, except that he relishes the
challenge of playing an African-American platoon sergeant.
And so Tropic
Thunder serves as a movie within a movie, commenting
on itself endlessly. Suffice to say, Stiller and Theroux
have developed a very careful structure, but you'll be too
busy laughing to really stop and admire it. Nonetheless,
Along with tyro
rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), the actors turn
out to be endlessly bickering and difficult. With production
reeling out of control, desperate director Damien Cockburn
(Steve Coogan) takes the advice of Viet Nam vet Four Leaf
Tayback (Nick Nolte) and drops the "platoon" into a real
of course, things go horribly wrong, and horribly right
for the audience.
pulls a punch with the film's jokes, definitely pushing
things up to the limits of taste. But it's all in context.
Some of the laughs come from uncomfortable gore, but people,
this is a war movie. Everything spins from character, whether
it's the shallowness of these actors - Lazarus has himself
fooled that he's deep - or just their self-deceptions.
Yet it also
has heart. As ridiculous as the situation may get, it has
an anchor in the form of Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel),
an actor new enough to the game to still have admiration
for his co-stars. That gives the audience a chance to see
the better part of these selfish creatures long before they
Aside from a
great handle on his structure, Stiller breaks new personal
ground as a director. He can handle action sequences and
quieter moments with a good sense of balance. As a writer,
too, he does the right thing of spreading the wealth. This
isn't a showcase for Stiller; every one of the main ensemble
gets equal time and memorable moments.
reaches down to a couple of supporting characters, too.
Danny McBride follows through on the potential he's shown
in earlier movies, here as movie effects man Cody, who's
had a dubiously dangerous career on movies that shouldn't
have been dangerous. Coogan and Nolte have a nice moment
of shared insanity.
But the real
praise has to go to two actors I admittedly don't care for
much. Though Tom Cruise essentially still plays with his
usual palette, channeling his aggression into the character
he plays here works pretty well. Then comes Matthew McConaughey.
People, this is the role of his career. Maybe he felt he
had to up his game when surrounded by so many others above
the line, or maybe his character was just that well-written.
Either way, he makes his mark in a movie full of stand out
may prove most memorable. A nightmarish exaggeration of
the method actor lost in his craft, Downey has so many layers
on Kirk Lazarus that this should be the Oscar-worthy performance
for him this year. A blue-eyed blond who has surgically
altered himself to be black, Lazarus has pushed himself
to the point of insanity. Even he can't explain why he still
acts like his character when he knows full well the cameras
aren't rolling. It's nice to be reminded what a chameleon
Downey himself can be.
by the way, comes after seeing Tropic Thunder twice,
just to be sure that it was as funny as my first impression
said it was. This movie starts with a bang, and barely ever
lets you stop to catch your breath. Really, it's been too
long since we've had a comedy this strong, this wrong, and
oh, so right.