EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


August 17, 2008

'Tropic Thunder' pushes the limits of good taste

'Tropic Thunder'

3 out of 4 stars

The Action Guy. The Comedian. The Award-Winner. It's like "The Breakfast Club" for Hollywood big shots. And "Tropic Thunder," the new comedy from director/producer/co-writer/star Ben Stiller, manages to take all of Tinsel Town's little imperfections and create something that is both satirical and effortlessly hilarious.

The film follows some of Hollywood's best-known actors playing fictionalized versions of the movie industry's well-known trademarks. Before the movie even starts, the film uniquely delivers its audience fake trailers that cleverly introduce the main characters while also playing on some of today's most stereotypical Hollywood formulas.

There's Tugg Speedman (Stiller), who is best known for his six-film series "Scorcher," in which he plays a gun-toting and, for some reason, baby-carrying, action hero. His trailer is for "Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown" in which he shoots, stares dangerously into the screen, and delivers classic one-liners like "Who left the fridge open?"

Then there's funny-guy Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), whose film "Fatties: Fart 2" is a clear take off of Eddie Murphy's multiple-role films such as "Nutty Professor" and "Norbit." He plays myriad obese characters who have a tendency for flatulence.

Lastly, there's "five-time Academy Award winner" Kirk Lazarus' (Robert Downey Jr.) trailer for "Satan's Alley." All three of the trailers are uproarious in creating witty spoofs of today's cinema and are a brilliant inception to more humor to come.

Once the movie starts, we witness our three main actors, along with a rapper-turned-actor (Brandon T. Jackson) and an acting rookie (Jay Baruchel), filming the much-anticipated war epic, "Tropic Thunder." The film opens with the realism of actual Vietnam films like "Platoon," but eventually enters into nonstop laughter territory.

Production for the film isn't going quite as expected, so the director (Steve Coogan) and the man whose story the film is based upon (Nick Nolte) come up with a plan — put the actors into actual danger by placing them in the battle areas of Vietnam, all while shooting the action with hidden cameras in the trees.

It sounds far-fetched, and it is, but "Tropic Thunder" makes it work half the time, and half the time you're laughing so hard you don't really care about what makes sense and what doesn't.

Once the five actors are trapped in the jungle, Stiller and fellow writer Justin Theroux's script allows for hilarity but also an intricate development of the major characters.

Speedman, no matter what happens, still believes that it's all for the movie, and tells the other actors to use it for inspiration.

Lazurus, on the other hand, knows that something isn't right, but still won't break character. On camera or off camera, he remains true to his role as the platoon's black sergeant; a role he has to endure a controversial medical procedure to play. Downey is an absolute scene-stealer with the role.

Then there's Black's Jeff Portnoy, who is possibly the most complex of the three. He's a comedian who truly hates himself, abuses drugs and feels that nobody appreciates him.

All three actors work well together and have great chemistry on camera, a necessity when there are so many big names on one screen.

Unfortunately, "Tropic Thunder" can be over-the-top at times, and can also have somewhat of a mean streak.

I'm positive that there are people who will be offended by the Robert Downey Jr. role. And I took offense to the movie's reference to a movie Tugg Speedman starred in called "Simple Jack," in which he played a mentally disabled character. The clips of Stiller portraying the character aren't at all flattering, and I feel that it's something the movie could have done without.

Then again, if you can laugh at one group of people, why not all of them. "Tropic Thunder" tests its audience and pushes its limits to the zenith. It knows what makes us uncomfortable and uneasy, and succeeds. But it also knows what makes us laugh, and with that, it prevails as well.


Greg Vellante is a teen writer for the Sunday Eagle-Tribune.

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