Tropic Thunder (Dir. Ben Stiller)

Chris Pesch

There’s a school of thought which insists that everybody, regardless of how much wrong they have done, is deserving of another chance. Ben Stiller must be the one exception to this rule, as even the kindest of discerning hearts would surely agree that he should never be allowed within miles of a director’s chair again, after having failed to create a redeemable picture worth watching for the third time in a row.

Sadly, his films attract inexplicably huge masses of viewers – thus ensuring that studios will always be willing to finance his ever-turgid, back-slapping output.

The saddest thing about his latest offering, is that Tropic Thunder had the potential to be a truly great comedy, with the premise of a film crew being lost in Vietnam as they are hunted by drug lords, sounding more than promising. Still it fails under the guidance of a director who obviously does not know where to take the film: is it supposed to be a spoof on Vietnam war-films, or is it lampooning money-making Hollywood and its troubled stars?

Well in fact it’s both, and driven by an all-star cast of actors (Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Nick Nolte etc…) for whom sabotaging their own careers is evidently a favourite pastime. Add to this, more pyrotechnics than were used on the set of ‘Pearl Harbour’, a vast amount of cursing and a couple of desperate, laughter scavenging farts, and Hollywood is onto a real winner.

The ingredients are carelessly thrown together and chef Stiller presents a dark and inedible mass, complete with a terrible aftertaste of having spent money on nothing.

Usually one can forgive a bad film when it, for whatever reason, makes you laugh. Tropic Thunder, in spite of being a ‘comedy’ by definition, neglects to do even this. The jokes are just too obvious. Of course Robert Downey Jr. playing Kirk Lazarus, an Australian so into his method acting that he undergoes a colour-changing procedure to take on the role of an African American general, has his charms. After a minute of him faking an African American accent, however, one gets the idea and wants to move on.

There’s little else to the film besides endlessly repetitive jokes, which soon grow thin — the only true stand-out is Tom Cruise, who is at least surprising in the role of an ultra-aggressive and foulmouthed studio exec. After a seemingly never-ending series of controversies surrounding him as a public figure, he finally shows why he is a huge celebrity in the first place: the enormous acting talent which he has inexplicably hidden from his viewers ever since Magnolia.

Welcome as it is, Cruise’s presence only serves to remind you of the reason why watching Tropic Thunder is such a tiresome experience. The idea that audiences should laugh at characters’ obvious representations of real life figures is quite a stretch. Most people tend not to laugh at Sylvester Stallone or Eddie Murphy whether they’re on or off-screen, there is simply no plausible reason why they should laugh at Ben Stiller and Jack Black’s pantomime impressions of them.


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