July 14, 2008

Review: "Tropic Thunder"


"Tropic Thunder," Ben Stiller's cameo-filled send-up of war movies which opens August 15, had a sneak peak at UCLA recently. Our summer intern, Micah Gottlieb, went and brings some early intelligence:

"Tropic Thunder" relies on two hammed-up forces to keep its slippery momentum: Robert Downey Jr. as a trash-talking character actor in blackface, and Tom Cruise as a trash-talking studio head who occasionally flaunts his inner gangsta. But the novelty has worn off by the time Cruise freak-dances his way through the end credits. And he is only one of a handful of surprise cameos in a movie that substitutes Ben Stiller's address book for inspiration – including Matthew McConaughey and Tobey Maguire.

The movie is itself a send-up of a genre, about actors in a Vietnam war film production gone awry. It begins with its best material: several fake trailers a la last year's "Grindhouse." It then hurls forth into an explosive, bloody battle, a glorious setpiece with an aesthetic that, with some good writing, could have introduced a truly epic comedy. Alas, these men are mostly caricatures, and ultimately 'Tropic' feels dated, whether through its use of 2004's "Get Back" by Ludacris as a punch-line (when there are many more recent inane crunk anthems), a half-baked war veteran subplot with Nick Nolte, or  its overall refusal to go anywhere truly daring. You know you're behind the curve when your film finds jokes about retards and TiVo worth repeating.

-- Micah Gottlieb.