If You Don’t Get the Jokes in ‘Tropic Thunder,’ You Don’t Deserve to Laugh

Tropic Thunder

As we come to an end of this blockbuster summer, I have to tip my hat to Paramount Pictures. With the exception of one major misfire (that being Mike Myers’ truly awful The Love Guru), this studio has cornered the market. If it weren’t for Warner Bros. uber-hit The Dark Knight, no other studio would come close to its revenue and power in the warm months of 2008.

Now at the tail end of the blockbuster movie season, there’s one more hit for Paramount looming, and that is Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller’s relentless skewering of all things Hollywood.

Over the past few weeks, we have heard how everyone is getting offended at this movie, and let’s face it, the film is offensive. But what did you expect from a movie that touts Robert Downey Jr. in blackface as one of its leads.

Like last year’s Superbad, the plot to this film is actually pretty thin. A group of prima donna actors are dropped into a jungle hot zone to add to the realism of making a Vietnam film. However, things go disastrously wrong as real rebels target the group.

With a film like Tropic Thunder, you don’t look for growth in the characters or huge character arcs. In fact, this movie is poking fun at everything you’d expect to get from a would-be war film. None of the characters are likeable in any respect, but like the gang from ‘Seinfeld,’ they aren’t meant to be liked. Rather, it’s just a hoot to watch the trouble they get themselves in.

Another way this film reminds me of Superbad is that the essence of the comedy come from random moments that don’t necessarily propel the plot. Rather, the film is a string of hilariously funny moments in which Stiller and company vent about the entire movie industry.

The film starts off with a bang, featuring fake trailers for films starring the cast-within-a-cast. After seeing an ad for Booty Juice, you see trailers for a gay priest drama, an Oscar grab a la Radio and a movie about a bunch of fat people farting.

If you’ve ever watched the entertainment news and heard of a pretentious actor going too far in his or her method acting, or you’ve read about a set blow-up from some egomaniacal star being “difficult,” you’ll get the jokes in this film.

And for all the talk of this movie offending people, those saying that just don’t get the joke. In every respect, whether it’s about an award-winning actor slapping on some blackface or an action star trying to get street cred by playing someone who is mentally challenged, the target of the joke is always the actors and filmmakers themselves.

The cast is hilarious in this movie. Ben Stiller is funny, but surprisingly generous by not hogging the comedy. He is easily overshadowed by Robert Downey Jr. giving one of the best performances of the year. And even Jack Black, whom I tend to be perpetually annoyed with, comes off hilarious at all the right times. Finally, kudos go to a great supporting cast, from Matthew McConaughey as Stiller’s overzealous agent to Danny McBride as the marginally stupid pyrotechnics man.

For as small of a role as it is, Steve Coogan gives a great turn as the incompetent director. And we’ve all heard about Tom Cruise’s role as the caustic movie mogul. His role gives me reason to think that his career might not be over after all.

Some have suggested that this movie goes too far with inappropriate language, situations and characters, but unlike some movies, Tropic Thunder isn’t just going for shock value. At its heart, Tropic Thunder is a parody of its own industry and nothing more. If you don’t get the joke, you don’t deserve to laugh.

THE UPSIDE: One of the funniest movies of the summer, if you get the jokes.

THE DOWNSIDE: Too much controversy will probably hinder another movie like this appearing for a while.

ON THE SIDE: Check out the DVD when it comes out for a hilarious intro the cast did for Comic-Con audiences. Almost as funny as the faux Iron Man/Kung Fu Panda marketing effort earlier this summer.

Grade: A-

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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