For those with an acquired taste for satire and absurdity, Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder” truly hits the spot. Grossing nearly $66 million in the first week, “Tropic Thunder” accomplished exactly what the movie’s central plot revolved around; made a colossal profit thanks to an over-the-top cast and mass advertising. The film was the ultimate satire, attacking Hollywood’s preposterous pretentions and self-glorification to a degree that could be considered risky. Fortunately, armed with the cast of media giants such as Jack Black, Stiller himself, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew McConaughey, and an almost unrecognizable Tom Cruise, Hollywood can relax and laugh at itself along with the rest of the country.Stiller carefully designed the movie to be seen from a third-party perspective. The opening of the film blends in with the coming attractions with a series of mock previews featuring Brandon T. Jackson, a fictitious rapper named “Alpa Chino” surrounded by barely clothed women in a commercial for his energy drink obnoxiously labeled “Booty Sweat.” The next preview is for a movie with a striking resemblance to “The Nutty Professor” called “The Fatties”, where Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) makes up a cast of an overweight and overly flatulent family. By the third preview, the audience catches on to the fictitious nature of the prospective movies when Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) and Toby McGuire’s new controversial film about homosexual monks is advertised. To top off the absurd line up of films is the sixth in a series of “Scorcher” films in which Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) continually saves the world armed only with a gun and a one liner.
This diverse group of actors makes up the cast for “Tropic Thunder” a film within the film itself, based on a fictitious book written by a Vietnam Veteran. With an entirely ludicrous budget, the movie is speculated to be the most extravagant and expensive ever made. However, after an accidental waste of a $40 million display of explosives, Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) the maliciously rutheless and filthy rich producer decides to cut the rookie director off. The idea to shoot the movie “guerilla-style” comes from the writer of the book, “Four Leaf” (played by Nick Nolte). He is fed up with the spoiled actors and thinks the real fear of being in the jungle would not only be cheaper but capture the essence of his novel better. As one might guess, this idea turns into a total disaster, deserting the Hollywood hot heads in the middle of territory protected by an adolescent drug-lord, who is ironically terrifying.
Racial tensions arise with Robert Downey Junior’s character, who is just a “dude, playing a dude, disguised as another dude”. Dressed in a contemporary form of “black face”, Downey Jr. shines as a comedian in spite of his token “funny-men” counterparts, Black and Stiller. Both their characters provide a mockery of celebrities who lose themselves in fully in their character.
Stiller’s humor is both dark and witty. While the overt violence within the fictitious film is clearly fake, it is essentially the exact same as intended “real” violence one sees in any serious drama. It was confusing and almost difficult to laugh at, as was the explicit drug addiction and withdrawal Jeff Portnoy (Black) goes through while stranded in the jungle. In light of his recent film, “Kung Fu Panda,” one may be surprised to hear the obscenities included in Black’s dialogue. Perhaps even more offensive were the demeaning phrases and violent outbursts provided by Tom Cruise’s character. In spite of the crudeness to his script, Cruise has proved once again his diverse and incredibly vast abilities as a seasoned actor.
As much as one can understand that the film is a satire, Stiller steps onto thin ice when his character mocks an autistic child in one of Tugg Speedman’s flopped films, “Simple Jack.” Activist groups around the country did speak out against this particular mockery and protested the film in various locations.
However, anyone with an understanding or firm grasp on sarcasm and satirical intentions would understand that the humor is not in the autism, but in the fact that Hollywood has no place in displaying the topic in any form of entertainment; hence Speedman’s failure to prevail.
The film could be funny for the ruthlessly insensitive, but was designed more for the carefully analytical jokesters among us.
Depending on which approach one takes, “Tropic Thunder” could be either clever and hilarious or confusing and unpleasant. Stiller has officially handed the lens over to the audience.
Abigail Dredge is a fourth-year student at West Chester University majoring in English. She can be reached at AD615398@wcupa.edu.