Monday, August 18, 2008

"I don't read the script. The script reads me."

How does one approach comedy from a critical standpoint? It is the most critic proof genre there is because everyone has a different sense of humor. So when looking at a film that is a total farce and taking a critical stance one must look beyond the jokes. If all that's there is a vast emptiness than the jokes will generally ring hollow, but when you look past the jokes and find something of substance to place the jokes onto, therein lies the secret to comedic masterpiece.

Ben Stiller is no stranger to great comedy. His work in films like There's Something About Mary, Zoolander, Meet The Parents, and the great Ben Stiller Show prove that he has a real knack for playing the lovable shlub that we can root for. He is Charlie Chaplin's tramp in a new form, slightly more buff. With his latest starring and directorial effort Stiller brings it to an entirely new level.

Tropic Thunder is a Hollywood satire starring Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, Steve Coogan and of course Mr. Stiller. It follows the stars as they star in a movie called Tropic Thunder based on a book of the same name. Coogan, who is directing them, has realized he cannot control them and follows the advice of a hilariously over the top Nick Nolte and puts them "into the shit". Things go awry and when the actors think they are still being filmed, they are actually under attack and in real danger from a terrorist drug running group from Lao ran by a little boy.
It's a pretty absurd plot, and I did a terrible job of truly describing it, but it's no easy thing to do with this film. That's not to say that the plot is convoluted or messy. I actually think it flows along quite well and uses all the characters and jokes to it's advantage.

The true star of this film is obviously Robert Downey Jr. His portrayal of Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus getting his skin colored to play the troops black sergeant is this films greatest achievement. Honestly, I was lost in his performance. Both as a black man and Australian, he isn't Robert Downey Jr, but he actually is these characters. Before I had always thought he was good, but really just playing himself. This film really proves his outstanding acting ability. It's obvious he is making fun of method actors who take it a little too far, but it's kind of interesting to see how far he is actually taking it himself. Not to mention the discussion that can be brought up out of the idea of a white man playing a black man.

This film really hits all it's marks when Downey is on the screen, but he isn't stealing the whole show here. We get a whole slew of great guest appearances from Hollywood that aren't really expected. From Tom Cruise, to Matthew McConaughey, to Tobey McGuire we are spearheaded with Hollywood A-Lister's seemingly lampooning themselves.

The films satire is rich and biting for the most part, but they head over into broad comedy land a little too much for my liking. Stiller wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to be able to make fun of Eddie Murphy for his flatulence laced family films while at the same time being them. This isn't to say I didn't laugh a lot. This is some of the most laughs I have had all summer, maybe even all year. But with what Stiller was trying to accomplish the film does fall a little short.

There are some really great moments that reach a peak and then hit a mark that just isn't very funny, sometimes stopped dead in their tracks. One such moment is when Kirk Lazarus is talking to the group about having someone back home. In this hilarious, and honest scene, we get a joke about a character being gay. It falls flat on its face. But I will say I thought it was saved in the end by a nice monologue by a tied up Jack Black.

The films peaks are much higher than its lowest spots and that's definitely a good thing. Just watch out for a dancing Tom Cruise, which seems to be in the vein of Date Movie.

Tropic Thunder is probably Ben Stiller's best directorial effort. Here's to hoping his next one is even better!

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