August 16, 2008

That man's a national treasure


Written, directed by and starring Ben Stiller (as Tugg Speedman), Tropic Thunder makes fun of big-budgeted action movies, war movie boot camps, Hollywood egos, the Academy Awards, among other things. It manages to offend the disabled, the mentally challenged, African-Americans, primadonna actors, Asians, war veterans and everybody else. And it's hilarious.

After a failed turn as a mentally challenged man in Simple Jack, fading action star Speedman seeks respectability by making a Vietnam war movie based on Four-Leaf Tayback's (Nick Nolte) book. He is joined by Jack Black's Jeff Portnoy , a heroin-addicted comic best known for his flatulent and corpulent characters; Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), rapper-entrepreneur Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson); and the reason I wanted to see the film, Robert Downey, Jr. He plays Australian 5-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus. He skewers Method actors: Kirk had a pigment procedure done for his role as African-American Sgt. Osiris, and doesn't break character until he's done the DVD commentary. Mr. Downey, Jr. steals the film. What a great year he's having and I'm so happy for him.

So our merry band of heroes gets dropped into the jungle by their newbie director (Steve Coogan), and stumble upon local druglords. They get to become the soldiers they play, and we get our climactic action scenes as they try to make it out of the jungle alive. Watch out for cameos throughout the film, the most notable being Tom Cruise as the balding, overweight, angry studio boss. Matthew McConaughey joins the fun as Stiller's agent.

It is inventive, funny, bizarre, over-long, over-the-top, rude, crude yet lots of fun. Usually I don't like to sit through previews before the movie, but come early enough to see the fake Alpa Chino commercial and 3 trailers featuring Speedman, Portnoy and Lazarus. You'll never see Tobey Maguire the same way again.

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