Monday, November 23, 2009

Tropic Thunder

(Ben Stiller, 2008)
How does a movie with this much talent and this many clever ideas wind up so resolutely unfunny? It's like a pitch session suspended in amber - a funeral march of high concepts. That potty-mouth dancing executive was no more or less of a laughless dud after I found out it was Tom Cruise in disguise. Also typical is the fate of the central conceit - they think they're making a movie but it's real! This idea could have been played for a lot of comic mileage, with clever variations stemming from the delusions of each lead. Instead it's worth about three gags in five minutes and then it's over. Whereupon Stiller gets shoved violently into the background - presumably he had his hands full directing, but with him gone the film loses its through line, its momentum, its point. Downey's faux-black routine and Jack Black's heroin withdrawal thing are genuinely inspired, but they are shtick in a vacuum, not least because they are saddled with two Zeppos - Jay Baruchel has a funny organ-loss shtick in the opening scene and then bubkes, while Brandon T. Jackson is there solely to provide distancing commentary on Downey's racial neurosis. This latter is a transparent market-driven plea for clemency and is the most offensive thing about the movie - if half their target audience had been Asians or 'retards', you know damn well they'd have hedged those juvenile burlesques as well.

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