Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dear Charlie:

Okay, so an in-depth analysis of Tropic Thunder, which I haven't stopped thinking about all day, without giving away any heavy details that might ruin someone else's fun. Yeah, I know. I'm a geek. Sue me. Heh.

A good chunk of this movie's success comes from the actors themselves. Everyone threw themselves into their parts with gleeful and total abandon. Leaving ego at the door, they all -- from the main heroes to the most anonymous bad guys -- committed themselves to being their characters and making them as open to humiliation as possible. It plays in a big way and makes you believe even the most ridiculous set-up.

The rest comes, like in any good comedy, from all the layers. First and least important -- though most obvious -- is the surface layer of one-liners and fart jokes. Simple humor. Easy stuff. No explanation necessary.

Next is the inside humor. Making fun of Hollywood is a time-honored tradition in Hollywood, with varied success. This time around, it's definitely a success.

The big, bad movie exec -- a freakishly crass and foul-mouthed Tom Cruise with acting chops like you've never seen from the lately more "serious" actor. The action lug trying to slip into more demanding, more serious roles. The Method Scion of award-winning acclaim who will do occupy his role. The over-exposed and low-brow comedian more known for his fart jokes than his witty repartee and more for his drug habit than his charm. The token black guy. The lame and quickly-forgotten "other" guy. And so on.

But those characters lead to yet another layer: the play on those expected stereotypes. Sure, the movie pokes fun at archetypes, but it also makes fun of those who exhibit them. And the actual actors know this and play it up hard-core, even jabbing at their own reputations on occasion.

Another layer is parody. This movie hits on war movies -- most notably Platoon -- and comedies and industry movies and more. Buddy movies. Redemption movies. You name it, TT parodies it. Good times, here.

And then, there are the actors themselves. I could go on and on. I'll try to keep this under epic length, though. Heh.

For me, Jack Black was the big surprise here. I didn't see High Fidelity, so I didn't get to see him in probably his best role up to now. The other movies of his I've seen seem to feature him as a basically good-natured slacker, a little boy refusing to grow up. That's all well and good, but nothing ever really grabbed me.

In this role, though, he does what all the actors in this movie do -- throws caution to the wind. And in doing so, he gives one of the best performances of his life. It's surprisingly...restrained. Considering that he's playing a tweaking drug addict, he pretty much sticks to the nitty-gritty, then puts his own dash on it. Extraordinary performance. But he doesn't play that tweaking druggie for pity, and that might be why it works so well. You don't feel sorry for Portnoy, but that doesn't stop you from wanting him to step up when it really counts. Heh.

And Ben Stiller shines as he hasn't since Mystery Men. Don't get me wrong -- I got a kick out of Zoolander and Dodgeball and especially Starsky & Hutch. But most of those parts were variations on the same theme. Here, I think he makes fun of that image of himself, as well as that of bulked-up action heroes that then try to do something else. But he does it so well that you only laugh when Tugg Speedman falls so deeply into his own mental morass that he even trips up the other characters. When he starts making...dun-dun-duuuunnnn...sense.

And then there's Robert Downey, Jr. As impressed as I was with the other actors in this flick, I could honestly write pages about him. Like Jack Black, Downey's prior roles just kind of seemed to flow over me. Not that they weren't excellent or that he didn't do a good job on them. Mercy, no. Just that I didn't catch most of them. Other genres, I guess.

Until Iron Man, that is. That was definitely my genre, and I was instantly hooked. The man can act. Remember when I said "At this point, I'd watch Mr. Downey in a six-hour romance/drama in black-n-white with no sound. On a 12-inch screen. In Latin with no subtitles."? I meant it.

In TT, though, he acts on a whole 'nother level. He plays, what, four separate personalities? Five? Because Kirk Lazarus is a method actor, he fully immerses himself in whatever role he's playing -- even in his personal life. And because Robert Downey, Jr. is playing Kirk Lazarus...yeah. You do the math.

Best of all, though, are the subtle changes Lazarus goes through even as he stubbornly clings to his Sgt. Osiris persona. The "black man" front goes from a forced and overt (and hilarious) caricature to a much more quiet, more natural (though still false) personality. Ironically, this is when he's the most subject to attack from the outside about his method acting. Heh. God love the irony, there.

But that's what makes the flick great. The irony is thick enough to hack with a machete. Good times, there.

Brandon T. Jackson as the rapper-turned-actor who felt the need to "represent" because the only other good black role in the flick was given over to Crocodile Dundee -- heh, gotta love those trailer moments -- is frackin hilarious. His frustration with Lazarus' characaturing of his race is a constant wellspring of material. It really never gets old. And Nelson plays it with expert panache, fitting right in with the other three and carrying his weight easily. Excellently done.

And then there's Jay Baruchel as the imminently competent (and put-upon) Kevin Sandusky -- the bottom-of-the-totem-pole grunt who is so "unimportant" that even his fellow cast can't be bothered to remember his name. He's the only one who actually read the script, the only one who's been to boot camp, and, for crying out loud, is the only one who knows how to read a map. No, I'm not kidding. Heh, he's the most capable of the lot and the most well-grounded.

Baruchel plays him spot-on, giving him a quiet, almost geeky confidence as he slowly realizes that he may be the only one who can get them out alive because he's the only one with both feet firmly in reality. Heh, possibly because he's the only one who's not really "famous" yet.

That's not all of the "main" cast, of course, but this is getting seriously long, and it's gonna be hard to talk about the others without spilling plot points that you'd probably rather not know if you haven't seen it yet. I definitely wouldn't want to do that. I enjoyed the flick too much to risk ruining it for someone else. I honestly laughed for the full running time.

Admittedly, if you know me at all, it's not terribly hard to make me laugh. But it is hard to score on such varied fronts, even for such an easy mark as I am. And it is hard to make a flick that someone as easily amused as I am is still thinking about -- and finding more to laugh about and muse over -- the next day.

The more people I told about it, the more I remembered. And the more I remembered, the more I cracked up. The more dots I connected. The more I can't wait to see it again this weekend with the group.

Oi, the hardest part is going to be waiting that long.

At any rate, in summary, I kinda see this flick as this over-sensitive generation's version of Blazing Saddles. I don't think that's too high a praise. There are a lot of parallels, and it took just as many balls to put this one out these days as for Blazing Saddles back in the day, and in this kind of comedy, that kind of grit is a necessity.

You can't do a movie like this half-ass. There's no milksop middle ground here. If even one of the actors didn't put his/her back into the character, the rest would turn into spoofs, no matter how well done. See, it's a lot smarter movie than it looks on the surface. Some moments are sheer genius. Pure gold.

If nothing else, I can't imagine it being easily forgotten. Good on ya, guys. In my humble -- and probably unread -- opinion, you've made something great. This year has been spectacular for movies in my favorite genres, and this one did not disappoint on any level.


At 10:16 AM, Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

I have been longing to see this one. Not in my local theater (there's only the one in the county, lol.) so I'll have to *gasp* BUY the DVD! Looking forward to it, though. I mean, if it's anywhere as good as Blazing Saddles...


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