Friday, January 23, 2009

Tropic Thunder

The film industry is a machine, a place where multi-million dollar sequels are made, movie moguls are ridiculous, and it helps to play a mentally-challenged part to win an Academy Award. "Tropic Thunder" captures this humorous essence, reads our minds, stretches to the outer boundaries of cinematic satire, and is one of the funniest movies of 2008. "Thunder" knows how to play its cards, knows its insider knowledge, and is biting as ever. Ben Stiller, who knows his Hollywood trivia, directs with a steady hand, and is not afraid to lampoon every facet of the film industry that he went through. He stars as Tugg Speedman, an action star who has signed on to play a young version of a war vet named Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), who's book, "Tropic Thunder," is the basis for the war movie being made. He's starring alongside Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black, in a strange performance that is pretty funny), the equivalent of Eddie Murphy (he is in an obvious parody of "The Nutty Professor") on heroin, Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), one of the funniest characters in the film, who's whole outfit selling "Booby Sweat" is a vehicle to conceal that he's gay, and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), the guy on the team everyone forgets. And then, of course, there's Robert Downey, Jr., in an Oscar-nominated performance as Kirk Lazarus, the Australian method actor who gets into his black sargeant and stays in character for nearly the entire movie. Downey, Jr. had a good performance in "Iron Man," but here, he goes to town, pretty much carrying the movie the whole distance it needs to go. Downey knows the industry as well, and he knows how to base a comeback. Along with Mickey Rourke, this is the comeback of the year. The film is also anchored by a few other performances, all of which I will leave you to discover. But the movie is really fearless: Hollywood is played like a guitar, and we're in on the joke. This movie covers all the strategies, all the cliches, all the behind-the-scenes goings on, and even has trailers before the film commences. Tinseltown may like to be joked about, but this may be a little excessive. Believe me, though, when I say it is funny, because it simply is. It works on so many levels. The fact that the film's script is not being recognized is a travesty. But I guess awards don't mean everything. Well, except to Kirk Lazarus. B+

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