The Vermont Cynic

Tropic Thunder drowns out controversy, baffles critics


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Tropic Thunder

DreamWorks Pictures

Rated R

2 Stars

Ben Stiller, long-time actor and Hollywood success, directs “Tropic Thunder,” a film that steps beyond a parody of the system of which he is a part. The film is about five Hollywood stars, each exemplifying their own cliché war films, who are cast in a war film based on a novel written by a fraud Vietnam War veteran played by Nick Nolte.

The director decides to place the actors in dangerous territory, the Golden Triangle, in order to evoke a real perÂformance. This film within a film concept, which is not new to cinema (e.g. “Singing in the Rain”), allows Stiller to take some risks that the typical narraÂtive wouldn’t allow.

The film breaks down every Hollywood stereotype in the book and takes them to new heights (or shall I say lows?). Jack Black plays the quintessenÂtial angry coke-head comedian, claiming “they only laugh at my farts!” Brandon T. Jackson plays the booty-loving rapper-gone-actor who spills the beans that he is actually gay.

The two most controversial roles in the film come with those played by Robert Downey, Jr., and Stiller himself. Downey, Jr. plays Kirk Lazarus, the overzealÂous Oscar winner with a habit of actually becoming his characters (alluding to method actors like Heath Ledger). He is cast as a black man, and therefore has to undergo skin pigmentation.

This role resembles the racist blackface traditions of the 1800s, but it is defied in the role of Brandon T. Jackson, who is actually black, and is constantly proving the role’s absurdity in his arguments with Lazarus.

Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, the vain and vapid action star, who has suffered a slew of flops, mainly “Simple Jack,” a film in which he plays a mentally impaired man (referencing films such as “I Am Sam” and “Forrest Gump”).

Where the heart of the conÂtroversy lies is in a conversation between Lazarus and Speedman. Lazarus is giving Speedman criticism, claiming that in his film he “went full retard.” There are various times where we get to see Stiller as Simple Jack, and he is portrayed as exaggeratedly brainless.

We all know there will be some incessantly politically correct viewers, who are easily offended by these elements of the film, especially the term “reÂtard.” But if so, they are entirely missing the mark.

The film isn’t making fun of black people or the mentally impaired. It is commenting on the absurdity of Hollywood and the ironic, often paradoxical disÂtance between the actor and the character of the money-mongerÂing devices used by producers and studio-heads.

Two surprising cameos that further this assertion come from Matthew McConaughey, who plays Rick Peck, Speedman’s agent; and Tom Cruise, who plays Les Grossman, the evil, and potty-mouthed man in charge.

Finally, a role that defies the Cruise cliché of fit, male action hero! He is ugly and chubby.

Peck discovers that SpeedÂman is stuck in the jungle, and Grossman is sure that letting him die would boost revenue so he bribes Peck by giving him a G5 jet. One scene shows Peck trying to decide between his friend and the plane, further proving that whether one is black, white, mentally impaired, gay, or even dying, Hollywood will use it all as a ploy for cash.

This film’s writing isn’t exÂactly intellectual, but it certainly paints the modern sense of huÂmor to perfection, and is perhaps what America needs. Finally, a commentary on the perversity and greed that seems to be at the root of Hollywood films that we eat up like candy has been made in “Tropic Thunder.”

Stiller’s strong point lies in mocking his own aesthetic to the extreme.

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Tropic Thunder drowns out controversy, baffles critics