Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tropic Thunder--Review

"I'm a LEAD FARMER motherfucker!"

Tropic Thunder has, quite simply, renewed my faith in comedy. After months of crying at commercials for Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie, my hopes weren't high upon finding out I was going to be seeing a parody movie, even after I'd chuckled a few times at the trailer attached to The Dark Knight. Instead, I came out pleasantly surprised and practically crying with laughter.

The movie is a parody of Hollywood war movies, but unlike most parodies, the plot actually revolves around a "movie-within-the-movie." From the very beginning the movie attempts to immerse you in the idea that you're actually watching the chronicle of a group of actors-and I mean the VERY beginning. Right after the real trailers end, a series of fake trailers for movies that the film's "stars" have appeared in play before the movie. They range from blatent spoofs ("Scorcher VI," a parody of repetitve action movie sequels) to incredibly clever ("Satan's Alley," which "stars" Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr.'s character as gay monks). Afterwords, the real movie begins.

We learn that the opening action sequence is really part of a movie called Tropic Thunder, which is based off a fake book of the same name written by a Vietnam War veteran named Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte). The movie's actors include fading action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller); five-time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), who has undergone an operation to make himself black to play his African American character; and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), who is tired of his roles as multiple characters in childish comedy movies. Other characters are rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), who is disgruntled at Lazarus's role as a black man; rookie actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel); the film's irritated director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan); and the movie's special effects wizard Cody Underwood (Danny McBride). When the actors' egos prevent them from filming the already behind schedule and over budget movie, Four Leaf suggests to director Cockburn that the actors be filmed in the actual jungles of Vietnam with hidden cameras.

Hilarity quickly ensues, however, when Cockburn is unceremoniously killed, stranding the actors in the middle of the jungle. Only Lazarus realises the gravity of the situation; the rest believe the director's death was a stunt and the movie is still going. As the actors squabble, a nearby drug smuggling ring mistakes the actors for real soldiers and attacks them, eventually capturing Speedman, who still thinks the smugglers are part of the movie thanks to a series of coincidences between his script and the real events.

Back in the outside world, Speedman's agent, Rick Pecker (Matthew McConaughey) realises his client and friend is in trouble and pleads with the movie's foulmouthed financial backer, Les Grossman, to rescue the actors, but Grossman is more interested in collecting the insurance claim on Speedman's impending death. The other actors are forced to try and work together to rescue Speedman before it's too late.

The funniest parts of Tropic Thunder are, by far, the dialogue scenes. Robert Downey Jr. in particular owns every scene he is in; his over-the-top attempt at playing a black man causes him to repeatedly clash with real African American Alpa Chino. Many of the lines in the movie are instantly quotable material, and the dialogue scenes help the movie's pacing in between the well-directed action sequences.

Tropic Thunder is not without its flaws, however. A number of character-based subplots are started but, for whatever reason, are either resolved quickly or not resolved at all. For example, Speedman's hope of adopting a child is a running plot in the movie, but it all leads up to a simple joke at the end of the movie. Similarly, all other subplots are resolved through a joke, gag, or line of dialogue. The only exception to this rule is Simple Jack, the movie Speedman previously acted in before Tropic Thunder. The movie involves Speedman playing a severely mentally handicapped man in a parody of movies like Forrest Gump. The movie is a flop, but is referenced repeatedly and becomes part of the plot. Speedman's annoyance at not receiving an Oscar for his role (like Tom Hanks did for Forrest Gump) prompts Lazarus's now infamously controversial speech about never "going full retard" in a movie, lest the actor be robbed of a potential award; overall the Simple Jack plotline does create several funny scenes.

In the end, Tropic Thunder is a surprisingly hilarious movie and the best comedy in years. The movie's horde of quotable lines should prompt repeat viewings, among a number of clever jokes and references you may not catch the first time. The best easter egg of all, however, is not revealed until the end credits, but eagle-eyed viewers may pick up the joke earlier in the movie (don't worry, the surprise occurs during the credits, not after them, so there's no need to sit through the whole thing). I suggest anyone who loves comedy to see this movie.

Score: 9/10
Release date: August 15, 2008

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