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Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller)

Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder (ben stiller)

There have been numerous satires over the years. Classics like “Airplane,” which sits on many a DVD shelf at home, or “Scary Movie I, II, or III,” which have been on the favorites list for some, but not for all.

Then there’s “Tropic Thunder,” which will no doubt go down as THE most hilarious spoof on Hollywood to date. They’ve even gone so far as to create three trailers that play before the film…since this is a film about the making of the film that wasn’t made.

You’ll get the picture, trust me. Just make sure to get there for previews, which include a trailer for “Fatties Part Two” starring Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), which I’m guessing is a poke at the series of Eddy Murphy movies where all the characters are played by one guy with prosthetics and 6-hour chair time in the make-up trailer.

Essentially, Tug Speedman (Ben Stiller) is an action film star whose light has continued to fade over the years. His last attempt at being taken seriously was playing a mentally challenged “Simple Jack,” which seriously backfired on him, and he came out of it looking not much better than the character he portrayed. So playing one of the leads in this Vietnam-era epic may be his last chance, for real, so he’s got to get that “Platoon” reach-for-the-sky pose down to perfection.

Speedman plays along side Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.), an Australian Academy award-winning actor whose brash and egoist manners just might resemble one Russell Crow. He’s gone the extra length of really, really getting into his part of playing an African American by undergoing skin-pigmentation surgery, much to the dismay of the real black man on the set, rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson). Get it? Alpa….Chino…

And then there’s Portnoy, who is also taking this opportunity to redeem his career, which has been a combination of playing a farting, obese man, women and child on camera, and a drugged-out, pant-dropping disaster off camera.

You may know the plot already, but in a nutshell, the stars are on the set of a film adaptation of “Tropic Thunder,” and I use that term adaptation loosely as you’ll find out the true story later in the film. As the “story” goes, the foursome, which includes the neophyte of the cast, Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), they are out to rescue one of their own, a American soldier who was captured within the dark and dangerous jungles of Vietnam.

After they blew their financial wad, literally, when a series of explosives did their thing without the camera running, the first-time director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) gets in a figurative headlock with the studio chief Lee Grossman (Tom Cruise), who during a satellite telecast meeting between the L.A. office and the on-location meeting room, orders the key grip to punch Cockburn in the face. And that’s just one, small example of the gut-slamming, balls to the wall antics Grossman plays throughout the film. Although I’m not a Cruise fan, the guy can act from time to time, and I was surprised to learn this role was played by him (I’ll also admit that I didn’t realize this until the very end). He pulled it off rather well.

Tropic ThunderThe answer to the budget dilemma and methodology for enabling Cockburn to keep his balls intact, the diretor takes the advice of the book’s author, Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), and puts the four actors into the jungle to survive on their own, with only a script and a map. While they assume every shot that echoes or camp they come across is part of the set, they slowly, every so slowly, realize that this is reality. As heard in the trailer, Lazarus realizes their predicament and says to Portnoy, “Some of us might not even make it back.” At which Portnoy replies, “Whadda ya mean? Like, not on the same flight?”

The camp turns out to be one run by prepubescent drug lord (Brandon Soo Hoo), who can’t be more than 11 or 12 years old and ironically runs his world with as strong an iron fist as the studio head, Grossman. Both end up play tug of war with a person’s life, and both seem to have complete disregard for it when it comes to self sufficiency and greed… which is part of the comedy, but probably not that far from reality (“millions of dollars and a G4 plane, or Speedman’s life?”).

Now this is an R-rated film. This means there is “pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material.” Why parents insist on bringing their kids, who need to go to friggin’ bathroom every five minutes during the film, is beyond me. Beside that annoyance, the youngsters should stay at home with the babysitter or grandma.

The most laughable scenes are raw and rude, quick and brutal, and not for the young year, including one of the highlights of the film when how Portnoy pleads to be untied from the tree to keep him stable while he’s coming down from heroin, describing in detail how he will service his co-actor.

The screenplay, written by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux (most recently playing the part of John Hancock in HBO’s “John Adams,” and a few years back, the part of Joe, Brenda’s hot boyfriend), and Etan Cohen. As both actors and writers who’ve been at the game, Stiller and Theroux no doubt took stories from their own history books.

Cohen on the other hand, is a writer/producer whose credits include a number of “King of the Hill” and Beevis & Butthead” episodes, along with the screenplay of “Idiocracy” directed by Mike Judge.

So that’s quite a comedic team, and they turn every cliché on its stomach and ram it up the back-side sans Vaseline. When it comes to comedy, there’s ridiculous ha-ha, and there’s ridiculous falling-off-your-chair funny. “Tropic Thunder” is the latter.

The soundtrack mixes the past and the present, pulling out “War” and “Run Through The Jungle” to ride next to Crystal Method’s “Name of the Game” and the Temptation’s “Ball of Confusion.”

Because much of Hollywood is considered a joke – the prima donna attitudes and need for assistants at every turn, the gigantic budgets, the reliance on recreation drugs, and the slip ‘n slide nature of careers – the jokes are essentially endless.

But it’s not only way the joke are written but their execution. The lines run fast, to the point that you may just have to see it two or three times to capture every razor sharp vocal spear. It’s rare that I see a movie in a theater twice, but I’ve already told my friends that I would go see it with them, as they said to me regarding the “Dark Night” movie (thanks Matty).


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