Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder (U.S., 2008) directed by Ben Stiller, 107 min.

Family and friends enjoyed this film enormously so I had high expectations for it.

But the presence of Robert Downey Jr. in a movie always sets off a heated debate in our house. My husband R really believes that he is one of the best actors working today. I ... well ... hate is a strong word as I often admonish my child, but, okay, I really dislike him as an actor. And he got an Oscar nomination for this!

To me, he always plays a variation of what appears to be his "true" character: smart ass, slightly sarcastic, immature, irresponsible. I don't see the "acting" in his performances at all. Unless he is is acting the public face of the person known as Robert Downey. Here he is a pretentious Australian actor Kirk Lazarus (ahem - Russell Crowe immediately comes to mind) who undergoes an elaborate skin "colouring" operation in order that he may play a black man in the war film Tropic Thunder they are shooting much to the consternation of a fellow black actor.

I have to admit the funniest line in the film is when a black man calls Downey the "n word". Downey clasps him close and whispers tearfully into his ear, "For 400 hundred years that word has kept us down." You can imagine the reaction.

Ben Stiller is Tugg Speedman here, an on the down slide action hero looking for a huge hit with a war movie. I usually enjoy Stiller despite some of the dreck he has appeared in. The third principal actor in this film is Jack Black as the loud-mouthed untalented star Jeff Portnoy of blockbusting "The Fatties" franchise (don't ask). Black always raises my BP several points whenever I see him on screen. Hey film-going world, being fat and obnoxious is not necessarily funny. Not always, not most of the time either.

So, you caustic little creature ... why did you see the film you ask? Peer pressure, pure peer pressure. I am weak, I am susceptible to my husband's desires ... The three aforementioned actors as well as relative unknown Brandon T. Jackson are working on a war film in Vietnam. Think Platoon. Things do not go as planned. The director (Steve Coogan) gets blown up by the overzealous special effects man. They are over budget, the four actors get lost in the jungle, some are confused as to what is part of the movie and what isn't. One of them is captured buy a gang of drug lords in the Vietnamese jungle convinced that the Americans are DEA agents and the others attempt to save him ... extreme silliness ensues. Also, not a particular high point for Asian-American actors.

Conflicts are resolved, male friendships strengthened despite rancour and vicious backbiting, valour is restored to this group of delusional, pampered, overfed Hollywood stars. They prove themselves. Someone comes "out" finally. Oh yay ... my cinematic dreams have come true.

My dislike of Downey has proven too much, I cannot see past it. I claim defeat ... I did not enjoy this film at all. Even the sight of Tom Cruise as a malicious, little toad of a Hollywood agent in a fat suit and with a balding head could not save the film for me (although I did enjoy his little dance during the credit sequence at the end!).

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