Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why Tropic Thunder Is Not Only The Funniest, But The Smartest Comedy Of The Summer.

While comedies don't have to be smart to be funny, and by some mysterious force of American stupidity, smart comedies (Arrested Development) have been unable to hold their own against inane ones (Two and a Half Men), satires sure as hell do have to be painstakingly intelligent. At the risk of sounding like an overeager T.A. I'd like to make the following case for the braininess of TROPIC THUNDER: THE SMARTEST MOVIE OF OUR TIME (the weekend) AND THE BEST MOVIE I'VE EVER SEEN (starring Ben Stiller, while having a tampon in).

Tropic Thunder is a meta-satire. A movie about a movie, the plot centers around a group of five outwardly egotistical, inwardly trembling actors on location in Vietnam to make the Greatest. War. Movie. Of. Our. Time. Tropic Thunder's barrel is obviously aimed at the excess of the Hollywood blockbuster and the level of seriousness with which everyone in the industry considers their work. As you've probably heard/read/seen already, Robert Downey Jr. plays Russell Crowesque "method" actor, Kirk Lazarus, who undergoes a pigmentation operation to darken his skin for the role of the black sergeant.

I know who I am! I'm the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude!

An aside on dudes disguised as other dudes: The mild uproar over Downey Jr./Kirk Lazarus in blackface is as retarded as Simple Jack. Downey himself has rightfully said that the mask is intended to be a statement on "actors' narcissism". And blackface isn't the only mask used in the film. When Speedman is kidnapped by Asian heroin growers, he falls under a Stockholm Syndrome-like spell, seduced by his kidnappers' love of his critically slammed film Simple Jack. The drug lords paint him up in whiteface and force him to perform the entire movie. By the time the rest of the actors make their way to Speedman's holding cell, he's so bowled over by his newfound fame that he's donning permanent Simple Jack-whiteface. When Lazarus tries to convince him to escape and the two tussle over identity ("This is the first time I know who I am!"..."That's not who you are! You're the star of Scorcher!)-- the comedy is in watching two actors in disguises so far removed from their true sapless identities argue about who they really are. The inclusion of whiteface and blackface isn't about race at all, rather it's just a representation of the characters' absurd level of artifice. JEAH.

Maybe the smartest part of the meta-satire is the way that Tropic Thunder makes the audience implicit in its critique. The movie begins with a series of hilarious commercials and trailers starring the five main actors that also serve to give us an idea of the "actor type" they represent. Ben Stiller's actor/character, Tugg Speedman, stars in a trailer for his tired-and-should-be-retired action series Scorcher. Kirk Lazarus is seen in a high drama, monks-in-love Brokeback spoof called Satan's Alley. However, there's no clear demarcation between the start of the movie's spoof trailers and the actual trailers we just sat through, causing a moment of temporary confusion. And as funny as this blend of actual with fictive is, it's also a bit incriminating: Like, you're the dumbasses who exalt these kind of movies and make them blockbuster hits.

But in the end, Tropic Thunder loves the subject of its satire too. The filming of the epic war movie begins with intensive bombing, a helicopter getaway, and Ben Stiller getting shot several times and still surviving. At the end, when the Tropic Thunder actors no longer acting for the movie, but rather escaping for their lives, they still unrealistically survive intensive bombing, gunshots, and pull off an impossible helicopter getaway. The actual ending is as cliched as the one that was being mocked in the beginning. And that's what was so great about the movie, and satire in general: It is always a labor of love. Hollywood is ridiculous, its vanity boundless, but we would never, ever want to live without it.

Up next! The magical realism of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (i.e. How One Pair of Jeans Fits All Four Girls of Differing Body Sizes!) You probably want to unsubscribe to this blog now.


WendyB said...

I'm going to see this in a few minutes!

Perfect Ratio said...

You will LOVE. Oscar-worthy.

WendyB said...

I'm back! If only Tom Cruise would get his personal life out of the public eye and just do roles like this, I would love him.

Laura said...

OMG. You saw Tropic Thunder without me? I'm weeping milk tears right now.