2008-08-29 / Columnists


'Tropic Thunder' - Hollywar Is Hell
Review By Robert Snyder

Filmmaker/actor Ben Stiller's action comedy, "Tropic Thunder," opened to big box-office bucks and big controversy.

The spoof of Hollywood knocked "The Dark Knight" off the top of the charts with a $26 million weekend gross, but received knocks itself from groups advocating for people with disabilities, whose protest signs screamed, "Tropic Blunder."

While the film makes offensive fun of African-American actors, Jewish movie moguls and Hollywood in general, the dig that dives into the most sensitive nerve is the running joke about "retard" roles earning stars Oscars.

The gag seeps out during a discussion between he-man Tugg Speedman (Stiller) and Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) in character and surgically darkened skin as an African-American soldier. His career fading as an action hero, Speedman had tried for an Academy Award portraying a mentally-challenged man in "Simple Jack," a movie which failed financially and artistically.

Lazarus explains that to win an Oscar in Hollywood, your "retard" must be subliminally intelligent like Forrest Gump or Rain Man, not the "full retard," whom Sean Penn played in "I Am Sam." Though there's satiric truth in the reasoning, the repetition of the word, "retard," stings worse than an Uzi bullet. It's funny, but the pain to those who can't fight back is hurtful, when seen in a movie that's making someone millions.

Second on the bad-taste train (or third if you're sensitive to blackface humor) is Tom Cruise's brilliantly awful depiction of stereotypical Jewish movie producer Les Grossman. With a bald wig, latex nose, gold-dollar sign medallion and obese Chewbaccahaired body, Grossman is Cruise's revenge on his Paramount contract termination after his Oprah-show embarrassment. The producer is an inhuman monster willing to leave his actors under real attack and dying in the Southeast Asia jungles to cash in on the studio's insurance policy.

In addition to Speedman and Lazarus, the other actors trapped in the jungle making a war movie are drugaddicted comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), rapper Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and novice-actor-formersoldier Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). In his search for realism, the film-within-the-film's director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) puts his stars in the wilderness to face spontaneous war situations as hidden cameras roll. Unfortunately for them, real drug lords mistake them for genuine soldiers out to bust their secret heroinproduction plant.

Although the over-the-top laughs keep coming, the film takes itself a bit too seriously in the shoot-em-up finale, reminiscent of "The Dirty Dozen" or "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

Still, the opening comic trailer commercials outdo any funny stuff in the hour and 47 minutes that follow. Those thin-skinned to bigtime political incorrectness may want to exit after those first five minutes.

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