Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Tropic Thunder": The art of sharp satire lives again

Even if it has come a lot later than usual this year, it's still depressing to announce that, once again, it is now mathematically impossible for the Baltimore Orioles to win 100 games (but the chase to .500 goes on with spirit!)

But that, of course, is not the order of the day. That would be "Tropic Thunder" which - given my fears about how bad it might be - turned out to be surprisingly satisfying and close-to-first-rate satire of Hollywood action moviemaking.

I liked this one even more than "Pineapple Express," which I certainly didn't expect, but it's still not without its faults. First off, I'm still immature enough to get a kick out of grossout humor (I still say the first "Jackass" movie is the "Citizen Kane" of that genre), but I'm beginning to find I just don't have the stomach any more when it crosses the line to simply disgusting. "Tropic Thunder" does this at several points, the worst of which involved writer/director/star Ben Stiller and a certain body part of Steve Coogan's (I won't spoil this revolting bit for you.)

And my second beef was with Jack Black who, for the first time, simply annoyed me on the big screen. Even if you like him, which I definitely still do, try and think of his most annoying characteristics. Now think of all of those amplified because he's tripping balls on cocaine, and you'll come close to how unbearable he is in this movie. For a much better performance by Jack Black as a drug addict, flash back to Alison Maclean's simply charming little flick "Jesus' Son," which is well worth a rental if you haven't seen it.

All that said, there's a lot more to like than to loathe in "Tropic Thunder," and almost all of it revolves around Robert Downey Jr. (though Ben Stiller holds his own and just made me laugh out loud with his heart of darkness with panda breakdown.) Surely everyone has seen Downey in blackface as meticulous method actor Kirk Lazarus by now, but I can tell you there's much more funny here than you've seen in the trailer. The best part of all is that he talks like no person - black or white - you'll probably ever meet, and it's hilarious when Brandon T. Jackson as rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino (get it?) calls him out on it (and speaking of the fine line between gross and disgusting, two words: Booty Sweat (very funny!)

Drawing even more fire going in to this one was the use of the word "retard" but, and perhaps I'm just extremely insensitive, it works perfectly well in the framework of hollywood satire. If Stiller had simply left it at his portrayal of "Simple Jack" it would have been a mild chuckle-inducer, but once again it's Downey who elevates this to a fair target with his speech about going "full retard." The only people who should really be cringing rather than laughing at this are the moviemakers who know they're the real butt of this joke.

The bottom line: It's a bit too disgusting and definitely repetitive, but "Tropic Thunder" is also the best satire about the business of making movies since "The Player." Peace out.


Bob said...

I had a great time with this one too. And yes Downey was brilliant. It's just so great to see a satire with such sharp knives.
I hope the O's are able to make it to .500 too. It's pretty sad that's the best we've been able to hope for the past decade but what do you expect when you're in the most stacked division in baseball. Maybe they can switch with the Diamondbacks or something and go to the National League West. You know this is a good idea. :)

Reel Fanatic said...

I was thinking just the same thing the other day, Bob ... I think they'll finish just above .500 with the way the team is hitting right now, and they've been drafting smart for a few years now, so a fourth place finish in the AL East may come soon!

Yih said...

As great as Downey was in this film, I think it was actually Cruise that brought the film from "everything you've hoped for" to "everything you've hoped for and more"

and by the way...if tampa bay can give such a sudden turnaround, there's always hope for you next year...

Reel Fanatic said...

Tampa Bay is indeed inspiring, Yih, but I'm afraid they're run by folks who have a lot more sense than the management of the Orioles .. Here's hoping I'm wrong!

Ms☆Go said...

I dug it and appreciate what Stiller tried to do, but the movie wasn't nearly smart enough to REALLY pull it off and take it there.

movie junkie said...

Robert Downey Jr. cracks me up... he's got a knack for not taking himself too seriously

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