**WARNING** Mild spoilers ahead, nothing that isn’t all over the press.
Tropic Thunder has to go down as the film I most want to watch while stoned and drunk. I was neither of these things although I was in New Zealand, which at least was different from being down the Odeon in London. Yes I can attest that it rains in New Zealand. Such rain that even David Bowie would be satisfied. So Cesca and I did what all English do when it rains.
We went to the cinema.
Unlike the last picture I saw in the cinema, Dark Knight (which I watched in Alice Springs no less!), I am not going to hold off reviewing it. Dark Knight requires some context to review and consequently I have just downloaded the previous film Batman Begins. This will enable me to judge the film against something of a yardstick of quality, something for it to live up to.
There is no such film for Tropic Thunder! Nothing I have ever seen measures up to this movie in terms of “fucking insanity”. This is perhaps the ultimate “fanboy film”, one which will live on in student flats and dorm rooms for many years. One that will be chucked in the BlueRay player after many a night out drinking. It exists in that strange and sometimes brilliant genre of movie in that it is “Hollywood making fun of itself” film. The sort of film that has sly nods to genre classics and is essentially art recreating itself by burning all that has been held dear up until now. Not that this film is as smart and important as The Player, nor scripted as well as Get Shorty. Nor is its subject original, being both classically portrayed in Bowfinger (A film within a film) and Hot Shots! Part Deux (The Vietnam war as humour).
What it has is that it is funnier than all of them.
All comedy either comes down to two things. Script or Performance. This film has an excellent script in places, some of which has drawn a lot of criticism, but it is in the performances that it really shines. Each of the actors in this film are excellent in this respect, although the greatest performance is the now phoenix-like star of Robert Downey Jr’s.
His entire character is a skilfully presented joke that lasts the entire movie. Not at one moment does a joke about his character being an obsessive mega-method actor, who can’t “switch off” his performance, fall flat and they provide at least 70% of the jokes in the movie that work.
Some reviews have remarked how this stella performance shades the others, especially Jack Black (who is after all more than capable of holding a film on his own), but this misses the fact that Jacks character is telling a different joke. The clue is in the amazing, simply amazing, makeup on Jack. In the first few scenes he looks every bit the hard bitten Nam Vet. Think Tom Sizemore in Black Hawk Down. He is all blazing eyes and gungho. Once the camera stops he is missing his assistant, needs room service and eats drugs to fuel his performance. This is a critique of one type of acting. It is almost (possibly) Jack ribbing himself?
So it also goes with Stiller’s character, who wants to be taken more seriously as an actor, he is an faded star who has had action hits aplenty but finds them hollow. He has foolishly acted in a serious heart felt film to try and win an award, which would give him back his self belief, but it failed at the boxoffice. His life is essentially surreal and he is lost. To such an extent that he cannot spot reality from the special effects laden films he has starred in. This is all the more clear when he eats from the nick of a severed head because he thinks it is prop.
The script doesn’t stop there. There are clever nods to all sorts of Hollywood movies and stereotypes. We all spotted the easy jokes about Eddie Murphy, Snake Pliskin and Forest Gump, but there are even more subtle ones about Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Dear Hunter and Apocalypse Now.
Then there is the funniest joke performance since Michael Cane played Austin Powers’s dad. I am talking about Tom Cruise as the studio executive Les Grossman. Wearing a fat suit, with a bald head, fake hair and screaming more profanities than your average pimp, Cruise owns every scene he is in. Like a more violent version of the Studio Exec in the Orange Adverts, he scares everyone by screaming at them at full volume.
Les Grossman: Now I want you to take a step back… and literally fuck your own face!
I can see the casting meeting even now:
Casting Agent 1 : “Tom, Tom, Tom, we need to break you out of all this negative media coverage.”
Tom’s Assistant : “Yeah like, get everyone off your back about the Scientology thing Tom, its starting to define you Tom.”
Casting Agent 1 : “You’re an Actor, Tom!”
Casting Agent 2 : “We need to get you in something different, something not so serious…something with mojo!”
Casting Agent 1 : “Something with, with… Jack Black maybe?”
Tom’s Assistant : [Looking thoughtful] “Or Ben Stiller, like a cameo in Dodgeball 2 or something!”
Tom : “I like Robert Downey Jr too. Iron Man rocked”
Casting Agent 1 : [snaps his fingers] “Tom, I have just the vehicle for you, something that will get the people talking about your movies again Tom.”
Casting Agent 2 : [nods] “Something funny Tom, something you can really get your teeth into!”
Casting Agent 1 : “Something with Downey, Black and Stiller in it Tom!”
Casting Agent 2 : “And you get to do the booty dance!”
Tom : [suddenly interested] “The booty dance?”
Casting Agent 2: “The booty dance Tom!”
Tom’s Assistant : “He can do the booty dance in this picture?”
Tom : [Tom Cruise holds up two fingers] “Twice.”
Casting Agent 1 : [gulps] “Twice?”
Casting Agent 2 : [wide eyed] “You want to do the booty dance twice Tom? No one can do the booty dance twice in one film Tom…”
[They exchange looks]
Tom’s Assistant : “This is Tom Cruise gentleman. He can do the booty dance more than once!”
Casting Agent 2: “You can?”
Tom: “I can!”
Tom’s Assistant : “He can!”
Casting Agent 1: [pointing] “Tom you’ve got a deal!”
[Tom Cruise Smiles]
Tom Cruise, all is forgiven. Anyone able to do the booty dance twice in one film can believe the sky is vanilla for all I care!
So, while this film gets better with the assistance of friends or alcohol (whatever’s your poison), I watched it in an empty cinema on the far side of the world sober as a judge and still found it bloody funny.
I give it 8.