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Tropic Thunder

Movie title: Tropic Thunder (2008)
Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars) (Recommended!)
Rated: R
Directors: Ben Stiller
Producers: (Exec.) Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld, Eric McLeod, Matt Eppedio
Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Sandusky, Justin Theroux, Nick Nolte, Brandon Jackson, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride, Bill Hader
Genre: Comedy
Summation: A group of actors are thrown by a production company into a simulated war zone for the purpose of bringing out in them genuine emotions, but things get crazy when the actors find themselves in a real war zone.
Spoilers ahead: No
In a word: Ingenious

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The desire for good comedy is like sexual fetishes—everyone has their own kind of thing that lights their fires! But give it enough time and ruts form when certain groups of people get used to certain kinds of comedy and are not open to accepting anything new when it comes along. Getting viewers out of these ruts is sometimes hard to do, and it takes a breakthrough, something clever and ingeniously funny to do it. Tropic Thunder might just be one such movie. “Clever” and “ingenious” are only two words that describe it!

It’s not traditional comedy and it’s not for everyone. Viewers who can’t roll with crass, new age antics, handicapped jokes, and some “dirty” references and language won’t appreciate it. But for those who can appreciate it, it’ll be a belly-laugh-inducer for sure.

The story is, above all else, original. The heat gets turned up when a group of talented-but-out-of-steam actors anger a powerful production company by not getting into the parts they are assigned to play. Calling for drastic measures, it is decided that these actors get a taste of reality and be dropped off into a simulated combat zone (unbeknownst to the actors) where hidden cameras would be placed to record their every (real) expression of terror and passion. But things go awry when the cast becomes the target of actual enemy combatants who seek to kill them. That’s what Tropic Thunder is about, and I’m not kidding when I say that it’s a riot of a movie!

With some truly outrageous and bizarre “laugh out loud” funny moments, Tropic Thunder is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in recent memory. One of the more unique things about it is that it’s the kind of film that’s even funnier the second time around, making it worth owning. The dialogue was what really made this movie fly. You’ve never heard so many cuss words strung together in a creatively funny way to evoke sporadically gut-giggling laughter as you have here.

The acting was untouchable. Tom Cruise as “Les Grossman” was unforgettable, the brightest shining star on the set by a long shot (though the makeup job done to make him a bald man was bad). Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Kirk Lazarus, “Osiris,” was superb, as was Jack Black as the drug-addicted felonious farting funny man Jack Portnoy, “Fats.”

With the exception of a few awkwardly unfunny interludes littered throughout the film (and there are some), the comedy was there and always lively delivered. Particularly towards the middle of the movie, a few scenes seem like they will never move along, but the movie ends up passing by quickly. When things get off the road to funny (and they do at times), they manage to get back on the road quickly enough.

The real ingenuity behind the writing of the script is seen in that you can’t imagine that anyone would sit down and map out a screenplay of this sort. It required some true comic genius in the form of (uh…drugs maybe?) to put something like this together. But I digress. It was just mesmerizing to see Ben Stiller (Tugg Speedman) hunkered down under a self-made hut, watching the original Star Trek episode “Arena,” and then jumping out and killing his favorite animal, a panda. May not be conventionally funny, but even when the script isn’t generating laughs, it’s intriguing and manages to keep the viewer’s attention in a lightly amusing way. No one can criticize Tropic Thunder for not being original, even if the humor isn’t exactly their thing!

A few scenes run too long and lose their momentum, but that and occasional corniness isn’t too bad, thanks to the overall excellent craft of the movie. No feelings that a certain scene needed to be re-shot went through my mind.

Some public outrage was expressed at Tropic Thunder’s prolonged running retard gags. But love it or hate it, it’s damn funny! Those who object need to learn to lighten up and laugh a little. Even the best of us can use a good smearing once in a while.

(JH)

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