Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder

***1/2

 

Last weekend saw the opening of a critically acclaimed Woody Allen film and a new Star Wars movie. But all I wanted to see was “Tropic Thunder.”

Most comedies are so unapologetically contrived and dumb that I usually don’t enjoy myself – and I rarely find anything worth writing about. But I had a good feeling about this one.

Last time Ben Stiller wrote, directed, and starred in a movie, it was 2001’s “Zoolander” – the most sublimely silly comedy since “Austin Powers.”

When I heard that Stiller’s latest project was an R-rated, $90 million satire about Hollywood actors making a serious war movie…well, I knew that I had to see it. With a premise that wild and a cast that talented, I figured that “Tropic Thunder” had the potential to be truly fantastic.
The film isn’t quite as great as I had hoped. It doesn’t disappoint, though. “Tropic Thunder” is every bit as outrageous, wacky, and inspired as it sounds.

The premise is as simple as it is hilarious. Five spoiled, self-important actors go to Southeast Asia to make a Vietnam War movie. When production becomes an over-budget disaster, the beleaguered director sends the pampered thespians into an actual combat zone to make their performances more believable.

One thing about Ben Stiller: he knows what he is good at. Stiller has a wonderful talent for playing arrogant dumb guys who think they are way better at their chosen profession than they actually are. Stiller stole the show in “Dodgeball” as a macho, dim-witted fitness tycoon and he is an effectively clueless leading man in “Tropic Thunder.”

Unfortunately, much of the rest of the cast doesn’t pull their weight. Jack Black is pretty amusing as a recovering junky, but it is a one joke role. I didn’t see the purpose of the rapper-turned-actor character at all. I don’t see what is funny about his situation and I didn’t believe for one second that he is a big time music star.

I don’t even understand why Nick Nolte’s character even exists. All of his scenes could have been cut and the movie would have been exactly the same – only shorter and funnier.

I love Robert Downey Jr as the Australian method actor who plays the platoon’s black drill sergeant, but most of his funny lines were spoiled by the previews.

The only actor who fully lives up to his comedy potential here is Tom Cruise, who plays the arrogant, callous head of the movie studio that is producing the war movie.

Even more so than Downey Jr, Cruise goes all out for the part. The way he takes pure joy in his own evil behavior is a sick pleasure to behold.

In the end, “Tropic Thunder” doesn’t quite live up to its lofty potential. But you may be laughing too hard to care.

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