Tropic Thunder

Date: August 23, 2008
Location: AMC Sunset Place

Is there any actor out there on a better roll than Robert Downey Jr.? In the past three years he’s turned in extraordinary comedic (and dramatic) performances in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, Zodiac and Iron Man — four completely different films all made even more special through his presence. He brings an electricity to his roles that I don’t see matched by many actors working today.

Now, add Tropic Thunder to the list of Downey’s triumphs. As Kirk Lazarus, an Australian method actor who has his skin darkened to play a Black soldier in a Vietnam war film, Downey delivers gut-busting laughs while impressing with his chameleonic ability. If he’s passed up for a Best Supporting Actor nomination, it’ll be a crime.

Downey might be the best part of Tropic Thunder, but he has a lot of competition. A smart satirical script gives co-stars Ben Stiller and Jack Black plenty of chances to shine. And in expanded cameos, pretty boys Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise turn in stellar image-defying performances. Cruise, in particular, in bald cap and body padding, portrays vulgar studio head Les Grossman with a gusto he hasn’t displayed since Magnolia.

The film’s biggest laughs come at the expense of Hollywood. A trio of parody trailers at the beginning are pitch-perfect and lines like Downey’s “I don’t break character until after the DVD commentary” are worth the price of admission.

Apparently the movie is being picketed by groups offended by Stiller’s parody film-within-the-film Simple Jack, but they must not get that the joke isn’t on the mentally challenged; it’s on actors who portray the mentally challenged to win Oscars. It might not be P.C. when Downey advises that you should never go “full retard” if you want to win an Academy Award, but it sure does feel hilariously authentic.

10 thoughts on “Tropic Thunder

  1. movie buff says:

    i’ve gotta see Tropic Thunder ASAP; just seeing RDJ posing in the movie posters cracks me up… that guy’s got a knack for not taking himself too seriously

  2. Amy says:

    You may be risking having your blog picketed for suggesting the groups defending the mentally challenged “must not get … the joke,” but I couldn’t agree with you more. As for the film, it made me laugh more and harder than any film in recent (or not so recent) history. It may be most aimed at audiences just like us, who take film very seriously, for certainly some of the satire rings truest to those fans who love and know movies.

    I will say right now that if Robert Downey Jr. loses the oscar to Heath Ledger, I will expect Ben Stiller to make a sequel that finds a way to skewer Hollywood’s inane desire to hand posthumous awards to actors who should have won them for roles they had previously performed (when they would have been alive to pick up the damn statue!) As far as I’m concerned, he is the front-runner in both best acting categories this year, and he already has the honor of having voiced my two favorite lines of the movie year, neither of which I will “spoil” here.

  3. Kerrie says:

    I have been waiting and waiting for you to review this movie. Phew… Now I can finally vent on your blog.

    I agree with you about most of your take on the movie. For me, Robert Downey, Jr. and Tom Cruise stole the show. Seriously, how can Robert Downey, Jr. NOT get an Oscar nod here? He’d most likely be up against Heath Ledger, but a nomination is surely appropriate for his work in this otherwise ridiculous movie. And I agree that Tom Cruise has finally returned with the kind of standout performance that we haven’t seen from him in years. Did anyone else have a Weinstein in mind watching him in this role?

    I also agree with you about the perfection of the satire of the movie industry and the whole “full retard” bit, etc. Where the movie lost me, though, was when Ben Stiller – as always – took it too far. I work every day to get my students (college students, for those who don’t know) to stop calling things and people retarded. This movie takes things a giant step backwards in terms of what is and isn’t okay in that regard. While I thought that Robert Downey, Jr.’s [character’s] references to Forrest Gump, Rain Man and I Am Sam were spot on, I thought the bit could have ended there. It just seemed to be going on for another laugh that I don’t think it deserved (and didn’t get from me).

    The other thing I absolutely HATED was the reference to Matthew McConaughey’s autistic son. Was that necessary??? The line about “At least you get to choose your kid” made me want to vomit – seriously. I have a good friend with an autistic child so maybe I took it more personally, but even if I didn’t have that connection, I wouldn’t have found that even remotely funny. And what purpose, exactly, did that serve in terms of satirizing the movie industry?

    Okay, so I’m finished ranting. I won’t call it the worst movie I’ve seen, but I was disappointed. There, I’ve said it. Robert Downey, Jr., however, continues to captivate and amaze me with his talent. Now I can look forward to Watchmen for another great performance from him (I hope…). 🙂

  4. Clay says:

    While I definitely wouldn’t complain if Downey won the Oscar, my vote still goes to Ledger, who deserves it posthumously or not. But let’s not restart that debate!

  5. Amy says:

    Okay, maybe I’m a horrible person, but I think that line is hilarious. And in an industry where every other minute Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt seem to be adopting yet another kid, I think it does fit into the satire. Hell, I’m laughing right now. Add to that whole bit, Stiller feeling the compulsion to “adopt” little Half-Squat and you have comedy gold (not to mention the set-up for my favorite Downey line 😉 )

  6. Amy says:

    (btw, I have to admit I missed the whole autism angle, so that shouldn’t factor too heavily into how horrible I am)

  7. Clay says:

    I didn’t think McConaughey’s kid was autistic either. From the two quick glimpses of him, I gathered he was just ‘uncool.’ I also took it as a play at the whole ‘adopt a kid’ trend in Hollywood.

  8. Kerrie says:

    Unfortunately, I have learned a bit about autism in the past year or two – from my friend and from my work with a lot of students with Asperger’s. If you see the movie again, you can see that in the photo and the other scene where he’s featured, he is completely unengaged and has no expression. That’s typical of severe autism.
    As far as Amy’s comment about the likes of Brangelina and Madonna adopting for sport, I guess I can see the joke there. (And no, I don’t think you’re a horrible person.) I just wish they hadn’t played it off of a kid with a disorder.

  9. Clay says:

    “Completely unengaged with no expression” describes me through most of high school!

    I don’t know… if they were going for that they didn’t try very hard. We’re talking about 5 seconds of screen time. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on that one.

  10. Dana says:

    I also loved this film. As for the off color or politically incorrect humor, as with most humor of this sort, if it’s funny, it’s funny and the comedian can and usually does (and in my opinion should) get away with it. This is the reason why Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, etc…got away with non-PC jokes for years, while one nappy headed ho comment from the unfunny Imus gets him fired. So, here, the retard comments were just straight out hilarious (and, as Clay said, really more a shot at Hollywood’s desire to depict “the retard” than taking a shot at
    “the retard).

    All in all, I loved this movie…It’s second only to Iron Man…which is a testament to just how great Downey is (and how unabated my unnatural love for him is and always has been)

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