Howdy Inter-Webbers. I’m Matt Cohen, and I dig Ben Stiller movies.
And I don’t (neccesarrily) mean movies starring Ben Stiller. I mean, sure, he’s usually quite funny in anything he’s in, but the level of greatness between, say, Zoolander and Night at the Museum is too great to be measurable. Yes, Stiller is always funny, but every so often, when he gets something to say about it, the man shines. Look at the now four films he has directed, each one a classic in their own right - Reality Bites, Cable Guy, Zoolander, and now his most triumphant effort to date, Tropic Thunder.
So, as you can guess, I like the movie… a lot. I fully expected to enjoy it, but even I couldn’t fathom just how hysterical this movie would be. And what is it, you may be asking, that makes this movie so damn funny? Well, strap in, sit down, and get ready for another Matt Cohen style review, because this baby’s about to get Tropical, yo!
THE GOOD: Almost everything. With the exception of the uber-brilliant Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Tropic Thunder is the funniest movie of the year. Not only does it pack on the gut-laughs, but there is a real movie in here, too, one with character arcs and set pieces and quite an ingenious script. Many make mention of how “Inside” the film is, but I really think it is accessible enough, so much so that someone in the midwest with no connection to the entertainment industry whatsoever (besides TMZ, of course) would not only get the film, but really enjoy it. Let’s break this sucka down, shall we?
Ben Stiller: The ringleader of this band of merry men. Stiller in recent years has caught some flack from the “comedy-nerds” for choices, film wise. Many think he has sold out with family friendly fare and lending his voice to animated felines. Who was it that said, “Im not selling out; I’m buying in!”? Stiller seems to be a smart guy, and surely knows what he is doing with his own career. He’s the marquee funny-man now, and that’s fine. He is always likable. However, every once in a while, we get a glimpse of the Stiller we first fell for, the young, bright-eyed lunatic from the Ben Stiller Show. Tropic Thunder, and the role of Tug Speedman, is - fortunately - one of those times. Stiller, though out-shined by RDJ and Black, turns in a great performance, second only to the brilliant (and un-toppable) Derek Zoolander. It’s easy to overlook Stiller amid the zanyness going on, but without him, and the job he turns in, the film would A) Not Exist, and B) Not have that directorial charm that Stiller always exhibits. And that is Stiller’s biggest gift to the film - the directing. Many reviewers have noted that Stiller is a bit out of place as a falling action star (and eerily cut), but not so much as to be jarring to the viewer, in my not so humble opinion. After all, it is his film, and the Tugg character is the star and meatiest role, so I don’t fault him for taking the part. Stiller is as likable an funny in this film as any other, and though he has surrounded himself with IMMENSE talents, he still manages to make the viewer smile and laugh with every line delivered. Solid work from one of the more solid workhorses in comedy.
RDJ: I have been a fan of this man for years, but in the past 12 months he has quickly skyrocketed to the top of my list for Favorite All-Time Actors. Downey is on the biggest career roll of a lifetime, and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving man. I mean, hell, HE IS IRON MAN! It doesn’t get much bigger then that… or so I thought. RDJ’S Kirk Lazarus is not only one of the single most brilliant comedic performances OF ALL TIME, but its a mind-blowingly complex one to boot. Downey says it best himself in the film - “I’m the dude pretending to be a dude dressed up like another dude.” And we thought Adaptation was meta. When you first heard he would be donning black face, I’m sure you knew the potential for laughs, but OH MY, this thing goes further then I - or I think most people - would have thought it capable. Lazarus is at once so racist and yet so blissfully unaware, that all uncomfort goes immediately out the window and one can’t help but sit in awe and stare at not only of the most complete character performances in recent memory, but one of the most soul-shatteringly funny ones, as well. What makes the role all the more perfect is the fact that Lazarus is a pretty close mirror of the RDJ of the early to late 90’s. When an actor - and a serious one, at that - can find the sense of humor and guts to lampoon themselves, the potential for greatness gets upped twofold. Lazarus doesn’t MAKE the movie, but it wouldn’t be half the film it is without him, or the insane brilliance of RDJ.
Jack Black: My favorite Jables performance since School of Rock, and quite possibly the most “character” driven work he has done to date. Though Portnoy may be over the top and pretty ridiculous, there are moments of real pathos in there, especially the scene in which he volunteers to be tied to a tree. Jack can always seem to channel a boundless amount of energy on screen, but I think his real crowning achievement here is relaying a sense of anger - something we rarely, if ever, have seen from the Panda man. Without spoiling a major plot line, Black’s character in this film is not the happy go lucky funny man the trailers make him out to be. In fact, he may be the only genuinely “tragic” character in the flick, one that kinda bummed me out at certain moments (in an effective way). Maybe the first time he hasn’t really played himself in a film. Great character, great performance, and some amazing line delivery. Jables holds his own with the big boys.
Ensemble: There is almost TOO much great supporting work done here to go into each into detail. Needless to say, everyone in this film is at the top of their game in the laughs department. Standouts are as follows…. New favorite Danny McBride who gives us another variation on the same wacky theme with his work here as the films pyrotechnics expert. Knocked Up’s Jay Baruchel plays the “Squadron’s” rookie actor, the only member of the ensemble who is grounded in reality, and is very much the straight man. To his credit, he comes across extremely likable. Other greats are Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey, the always funny Bill Hader, and relative newcomer Brandon T. Davis as Alpa Chino, a part that needs to be seen to be believed. By now I’m sure you have heard about Tom Cruise’s involvement in the film - And it is too brilliant to spoil at all. See it… Career-redeeming work here folks.
The Plotting: Writers Ben Stiller, Etan Cohen, and Justin Theroux have done really amazing work here. First off, the opening scene sets such a reality (or false reality) that when the comedy does hit, or trickles in, it’s almost unexpected. We buy this world, the character’s places in it, and this is all due to the tremendous job the writers have done in not making this the parody that it so easily could have been. This is a REAL movie with REAL moments in it, despite the tons of hilarious laughs that occur throughout the entire film. Even the logic, which many times in comedies gets overlooked for chuckles, is foolproof here, with each “acting” moment feeding directly into the baddies appropriate response. This isn’t forced conflict or exposition heavy writing, it’s as organic as can be, and it completely reinforcing of not only the concept but the atmosphere Stiller sets as a director. A+ work all around. Can’t wait to see what insanity these boys cook up next.
The Action: Again, a testament to Stiller’s work, and the DP John Toll’s as well - this silly little comedy feels and looks exactly like the huge budget war epic it’s supposed to portray. Specifically, the line of brutality this film meets, crosses over, and never looks back at. There are moments in this film so gory, so gruesome, and blaringly realistic that shock is an understatement for how the viewer responds. My jaw dropped on multiple occasions, both due to the comedy and onscreen violence, both usually intermingled. This is not a spoof or a parody, my friends - this is a war/action flick that just happens to be one of the funniest movies in recent memory. Awesome stuff.
THE NOT SO GOOD: Honestly, besides a few jokes failing here and there and one outlandish moment involving a TIVO, the movie is pretty damn flawless - and by that, I don’t mean a perfect film, rather it is exactly what it needs to be… Near two hours of solid laughs.
THE BOTTOM LINE: See it, buy it on DVD,and memorize all the lines, cause we have a bonafide classic-in-the-making on our hands here, kids.
So you see, friends and neighbors - War isn’t always hell. Sometimes it’s really funny. Tune it in next week when I check out what the end of August has to offer us funny book wise. I can promise smiles… and baked goods.
Also, if you feel up to it, take a gander at my new personal blog TALES OF ADVENTURE, for the capital of ADHD on the web (and updated about 20 times daily). I promise… stuff. And, as always,
“Keep em’ bagged and boarded”
-Matt Cohen is currently a single lotus blossom swimming in a sea of tranquility.
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