Published at: July 24, 2008, 12:16 p.m. CST by hercules
Hey everyone. Capone at Comic-Con here. You know, for a convention that is rooted in comic books, they sure are screening a lot of comedies this year. So far, I'm good with that. Read on...
I didn't know if I'd see a mainstream comedy like TROPIC THUNDER ever again, and I certainly didn't think that Ben Stiller or Tom Cruise would have anything to do with it. TROPIC THUNDER is a comedy with balls…actual heaving, sweaty balls swaying to and fro as if to say, "Hey you. I dare you to kick me, to challenge my scrotal power, my swampy fortitude." Of course I adore nearly all of the R-rated works of Judd Apatow and his band of merry men, but even at their most screamingly gross and daring, they are still relatively safe films about a group of men and women that I'd like to be friends with. TROPIC THUNDER is an entirely different monster, and when I say the film has balls, I'm talking about work that is taking comedic chances with high-powered actors, many of whom have had a great deal of success in movies catering to younger audiences.
I'm not sure in this day and age if it's still possible for an actor to ruin his/her career with a single role, but if we did live in such times, this would be the film that could potentially put a stake through the heart of a lesser actor who didn't play his part exactly right. For example, when you hear the words "Robert Downey in black face," does it set off every bell in your head like a four-alarm fire? Does it speak to your heart about what is right and wrong in the history of Hollywood and the injustice delivered to black actors over the decades? Or does it make you giggle, just a little bit, just before the moderated outrage sets in? My guess is that the answer is D: All of the above. And that's exactly the reaction the makers of TROPIC THUNDER are hoping for if they're as smart as I think they are.
By now you probably know the story of TROPIC THUNDER: three hugely famous actors sign on to do what is set to be the most expensive war film ever made. Each one of the main actors has something to gain by doing the film, and possibly something to lose. Stiller plays Speedman (and action star whose franchise days are behind him, especially after staring in a film in which he played a retarded kid, considered by most critics to be one of the worst films ever made). Jack Black plays Jeff "Fats" Portnoy, a comic giant best known for playing multiple obese and flatulent characters in THE FATTIES. He's also known for showing up to premieres loaded/high, and is rumored to have a substance-abuse problem. Downey plays Kirk Lazarus, the award-winning Australian actor, whose last role was as a gay monk opposite Toby Maguire. Lazarus is such the consummate method actor that he takes on the role of an African American solider and goes under the knife to change his features (he also has his skin pigmentation changed somehow; that's not supposed to be makeup). Your not even sure it's okay to laugh at his character's portrayal of the American black man, but after a while you kind of just give in because he's playing it so straight that he makes it even funnier. You will succumb, trust me.
The book the film is based on is written by an ultra-grizzled Vietnam vet played by Nick Nolte who thinks this pussy actors need a dose of what it's like in the shit to truly capture these characters. He and the film's director (Steve Coogan) devise a plan to hide cameras in the jungle where the location shooting is taking place and drop the actors in the middle of nowhere to survive attacks (courtesy of the film's explosives expert, Cody, played by Danny McBride). What no one realizes is that real-life drug dealers operate in these parts and actually do begin to attack the unknowing actors, who are more than willing to play along thinking its all part of this guerilla-style filmmaking.
One name I haven't dropped yet is Brandon T. Jackson, the guy in the cast who was actually born black. He plays rapper Alpa Chino (say the name out loud, you'll get it), and the man has got a genuine sense of comic timing. More importantly, it's his presence in the film that makes Downey's character look all the more ridiculous. There's a reason exchanges between Jackson and Downey are a big part of every TROPIC THUNDER trailer. The guy never lets Downey off the hook. Rounding out the fake film's cast of soldiers is Jay Baruchel (Seth Rogen's roommate in KNOCKED UP with the Canadian flag tattoo/cum target on his chest). He plays the young, untested actor Kevin Sandusky who most of the bigger stars ignore because he doesn't pull in a salary that ends in "million." He's the closest thing this movie has to a straight man, but it might be easier to understand his appeal if you picture a young Woody Allen in the middle of APOCALYPSE NOW.
There are two supporting players that are worth mentioning because they are played by actors for whom the expression "supporting player" isn't used often. Matthew McConaughey is funny once again (hey, he made DAZED AND CONFUSED; let's give the dude credit) as Stiller's absolutely heartless and misguided agent, who is still trying to convince Speedman that the retard movie was a great move and a class act (Downey's explanation about why the performance didn't get Speedman an Oscar nomination is one of the greatest and most accurate monologues about Hollywood ever put down on paper). But the true jaw-droppingly What-The-Fuck work in TROPIC THUNDER (and there are several to choose from) is Tom Cruise as the studio head watching his tent pole project quickly go down the tubes. It's not so much the sweaty, balding, pudgy look of the character that floored me, but his actual physical movement. He's a fat and hungry wildcat ready to strike or roar unexpectedly at anyone who steps into his line of sight (often that person is his assistant, played by Bill Hader). And when you see Cruise dance to hip-hop music, your eyes may hurt for days. I've always been a fan of Cruise the actor, but his decision to even be in this movie--let alone play this character--shows the kind of stone from this guy that I wasn't sure he still possessed. Again, I'm back to the theme of how many sets of balls this movie owns.
I need to stop talking about TROPIC THUNDER now, lest I give away too much plot and too many jokes. The film's observations about the way modern Hollywood works and the personalities that make it work the way it does are delivered like a poison dart right in the neck. And from the moment the film begins (whatever you do, do not walk into this movie even 30 seconds late), I started laughing and hardly stopped. I lost count of the number of times I found myself saying, "I can't believe what I'm seeing." But mostly I just thought, "Look at all of those huge balls on the screen." Just thinking about it makes me happy.