Film Break: “Tropic Thunder”
Of all the hype surrounding Tropic Thunder, at least this much of it is true: It’s about as ruthless a satire of Hollywood culture as you’ll ever see; only Christopher Guest’s underappreciated For Your Consideration even seems to come close. But whether or not that makes it a worthwhile or effective film is a slightly different matter.
Of course we already knew that Ben Stiller, directing his third feature film here, is a brilliant satirist, a title he won with his wonderful, already-classic comedy Zoolander. And his latest does indeed attack Hollywood culture with its fangs bared, sparing no one– actors, directors, producers, executives, agents, even special effects guys. And in the process, Stiller and his star-studded cast unleash some truly anarchic comedy; there’s some stuff here that’s edgier and more outlandish than anything else you’ll see all year.
It’s hard to shake the notion, though, that Stiller and his crew are essentially shotting fish in a barrel. He goes after actors for being shallow, phony, narcissistic drug addicts. He skewers big-time executives for being materialistic and obsessed with money. He lampoons Hollywood’s shallowness and hypocrisy in general. But it’s unclear as to whether he really sheds any light on anything we didn’t already know; essentially, he’s playing with the same Hollywood stereotypes we’ve all seen a thousand times before, just with a bit more ruthlessness.
But that doesn’t make it a bad film– just one that’s liable to be overrated in some circles. As pure comedy, it’s an uproariously funny and inventive movie, full of surprises and memorable moments. Stiller is funnier than he has been in a while, and though Jack Black is totally wasted (literally and figuratively), Robert Downey Jr. is hilarious. And yes, there is that one big cameo that everyone’s been talking about for months now, and though it’s a bit of a letdown after all the hype, it’s still very humorous, and one of the best performances yet given by the actor in question, quite frankly. And perhaps most surprisingly of all, the movie works not just as a devilishly funny comedy, but also as a reasonably solid action flick in its own right.
So as far as satire goes it’s middling, but as far as big-budget summer comedies go, you won’t find anything better.