Controversy swarms the release of Tropic Thunder as it finally sees its theatrical release today. Advocate groups are picketing the film because of its depiction of retarded people and others were up in arms about RDJ playing a black guy a few months back when that made headlines. Turns out neither one really has a case, because the whole "retard" thing isn't even something to complain about - it's not making fun of people who are retarded, it's mocking actors who take it too far when they go to play a retarded person on screen. And the NAACP has approved of Downey's performance, so that makes it OK, right? Unlike some of the other comedies this summer, Tropic Thunder was funny all the way through and was unquestionably worth the price of admission. Ben Stiller's newest is a return to form for the comedy director/actor, but it's really Robert Downey, Jr. who steals the show. You're not surprised, are you?
Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr., Jack Black, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson
It helps if you've seen some of the older war movies that Tropic Thunder parodies (Platoon, Apocalypse Now, etc), but even if you haven't, you can still easily enjoy this movie as it stands alone. If you're a fan of comedy, action, ridiculousness, awesome cameos, or all of the above, this flick will fill your needs. From a directing standpoint, Ben Stiller did all he needed to make me laugh and present his movie in a competent manner, so I can't complain about that. It almost seemed like Tropic Thunder directed itself, since the cast and the script melded so cohesively that there wasn't room for an ego-driven director to take over, which was a good thing.
The script was really well written, a testament to the talents of co-writers Stiller, Etan Cohen, and Justin Theroux (set to write Iron Man 2). Yeah, there were some stupid parts in it (the TiVo thing sticks out in my mind), but they came across as sort of endearing in this context instead of groan-inducing in a Will Ferrell context. The acting was great on all accounts, from Jack Black's drug-addicted wild man to Stiller's action hero and Nick Nolte's grizzled war veteran. The supporting cast was awesome, including actors like rising star Danny McBride (Pineapple Express), Bill Hader, and some great cameos that I wouldn't dare give away. [Side note - Owen Wilson was supposed to play Tugg Speedman's manager, but because of that whole "attempted suicide" thing, he was replaced.] The real star here was Downey, who completely disappeared in his role of Kirk Lazarus, the "dude playing the dude disguised as another dude." In a striking parallel to his on screen persona, he was so intense and in character that I almost forgot it was him a couple of times. Great stuff, and definitely a high point in his comedic career that seems to have gotten a second wind thanks to the mega-success of Iron Man.
You all know the plot line (actors get caught up in real danger thinking its part of the movie they're filming), so I won't go into that too much. The special thing that separates Tropic Thunder from similar comedies are the fake trailers at the beginning of the movie for each of the main actors and previous films they've been in. Reminiscent of Grindhouse (those fake trailers were the best part of that movie anyway), Tropic Thunder capitalized on the opportunity and really went all out making trailers that added to the backstory of each of the main characters. And while the final credit dance definitely reminds me of the very very end of Dodgeball (the Milkshake dance), it was still funny to watch.
I'm not going to say any more about it, because the movie really thrives off of the little surprise moments that you don't see coming. Once again, credit here belongs to the trailer editors for not giving away too much in the previews. I really hope that you all get a chance to check this movie out. I predicted it would be my favorite comedy of the summer, and it didn't let me down. Hopefully you all will get as much enjoyment out of it as I did. Until next time...