Film Reviews

TROPIC THUNDER

By • Aug 13th, 2008 •

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Tom Cruise dances off with the movie.
 
Remember a few years ago when Ben Stiller was in every movie made in Hollywood? He was a Jedi in REVENGE OF THE SITH and I spotted him in the crowd in THE PASSION OF CHRIST mouthing “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”
 
In TROPIC THUNDER Stiller does everything and sings the theme song. I read Stiller wanted to play his character as a Tibetan monk but Robert Downey Jr. had already done makeup tests as a white man who becomes black in his contract-stipulated De Niro tribute.  
 
Once again Stiller plays a self-involved, self-deluded character (re: ZOOLANDER) named Tugg Speedman with a mega-franchise that has worn out its welcome with audiences. He decides to go the RAINMAN/I AM SAM route by playing a retarded character called Simple Jack. When his bid for an Oscar fails, Speedman signs on for a war movie co-starring beloved comedy fart-king Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and five-time Oscar-winning thespian Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.). Since Lazarus is the only serious “actor” in the movie, he goes the hyper-realism road by medically becoming a black man. As a Daniel Day-Lewis tribute, Lazarus insists on staying in character and must be addressed by his character’s name at all times.
 
There are enough inside movie jokes to please fans, with these three, along with the other characters, constantly referring to the only things that matter in their world – other performances and other celebrities.
 
With the prima donna stars complaining on the set and the money man (Tom Cruise) threatening to close down the production, the movie’s technical advisor (Nick Nolte), whose life is being played by Speedman, suggests that they actually dump the stars in an actual war zone and film that.
 
The movie’s director (Steve Coogan) agrees but inadvertently the stars land in a rebel war led by a 12-year-old Tran (Brandon Soo Hoo) waving a submachine gun and smoking a cigar.
 
Downey Jr. is brilliant. You are not only amazed, but riveted. It might sound ridiculous, but both Downey and his character are more committed than Sean Penn could ever be. That said, Charlize Theron (MONSTER), Christian Bale (THE MACHINIST) and Adrien Brody (THE PIANIST) rank way ahead of transforming trailblazer Robert De Niro (RAGING BULL). Let’s not dismiss De Niro in BULLWINKLE. That was surely a career benchmark.
 
Whenever Downey is on screen, his co-stars are like shadows. He is wisely kept away from the astonishing Tom Cruise. Cruise’s performance is so devastating that you could easily forget the movie. His dance in RISKY BUSINESS might have once been seen as iconic, but he erases the memory of it here and then dances off with TROPIC THUNDER.
  
The screenwriters, Justin Theroux (a terrific actor from MULHOLLAND DRIVE and now a terrific screenwriter), Ben Stiller, and Etan Cohen, are all Hollywood insiders and do not talk down to their audience. We all know who Jennifer Love Hewitt is and every other reference the characters make. We all know the great off-hand acting advice Laurence Olivier made to Dustin Hoffman when they were making MARATHON MAN.

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One Response »

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

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