Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Tropic Thunderous Review

I have just returned from seeing Tropic Thunder. I am so excited to be reviewing this movie for a variety of reasons. First of all, it will be the very first Related 2 Cayley movie review. This is taking some getting used to because I usually recap as well as review, and I have to be careful not to spoil the movie for anyone. Secondly, there has been a whole lotta advertising for this movie. And an almost equal amount of complaining as well.

I definitely had my mind set on looking for the controversial scenes and aspects of the movie. Earlier this year when the previews started coming out, it became quickly noted that Robert Downey, Jr. plays an African-American character. That, as you may recall, set off the first wave of criticism. Many were outraged that they would go through all the time and effort to make up this white actor, when they could have hired an actual black man. It was revealed that Downey was playing the role of an actor that was so into method acting, and so devoted to his role that he insisted on not only playing the role, but undergoing skin pigmentation procedures instead of relying on makeup. The actor-character is so devoted to his craft that he will not drop playing the character even after the scene is over. So, as it turns out, Hollywood was not forsaking it's African-American talent pool. Tropic Thunder was in fact making fun of Hollywood celebrities that go insanely "method" and can't see where boundaries lie, and the hubbub over this initial reaction died down.

Speaking of boundaries, the movie got into even more trouble for crossing a big one earlier this week when it was revealed that the movie features rampant use of an offensive word for the intellectually disabled. I personally hate the word myself. It is the word "retard" and I do agree that it needs to stop being used for so many reasons. From what I had heard it is "all over the movie" and that the movie is specifically making fun of the intellectually disabled. I was a bit shocked to hear this, and thought it might be an exaggeration by the typical reactionary types, but then the Special Olympics people issued a statement that they were calling for a boycott of the movie. That made me wonder if this movie was going to be over the top offensive and/or stupid; two ways a movie can go that are rarely mutually exclusive. My feelings about abandoning the showing until I had seen more reviews wavered during the week but in the end my curiosity prevailed.

To be frank, the movie most definitely is offensive. It does use the word "retard" often enough to be very noticeable. But thats not what makes the movie offensive. It offends everybody. One could say it offends the handicapped, rap artists, war veterans, those with gastrointestinal distress, Asians, children and substance abusers. It is not for the squeamish, sensitive or those prone to huffiness. If you tend to take umbrage at just about everything that can be remotely perceived as a slight? Avoid this movie. Stay away in droves. If you like action, tension, humor, slapstick and stuff getting blowed up, and can recognize irony when you see it, go right ahead and see this movie.

**This next paragraph might be considered a spoiler but I am really not trying to ruin it for anyone. If you want to see the movie but the issue of the recent controversy is bothering you, you may want to read on, as I don't give away too, too much.**
The background information on the "insulting" sections of the movie involve the actor, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller). He is an aging action hero (with beautiful biceps I might add) that wanted to earn himself an Oscar by playing a serious role. In the hopes of achieving movie legend status like Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, he takes on the titular role in the movie Simple Jack, and yes, Simple Jack is intellectually disabled. And yes, Tugg Speedman does refer to the type of person he was portraying as the "R" word. Repeatedly. Like, a lot. He is having a conversation about the movie with Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) and he says many insensitive things about the people with whom he studied to learn how to behave as if he was, to use their word, simple. But what was painfully obvious to me is that Tugg Speedman is a moron. He doesn't get it. He's using the word because he is insensitive, self-centered and, I will repeat for emphasis, a moron. If anyone should be offended by this movie it should be morons. They would never get a protest going, though. They would probably end up picketing a supermarket because they were showing "Tropicana". But I digress. Lazarus even baits him into saying more moronic things by saying just about every offensive word that is a synonym for the "R" word. But this isn't to make fun of anyone with a disability, it is specifically to humiliate Tugg. It even acts as a cautionary example in that people will realize that when you talk like that, other people will consider you a moron. Therefore, I cannot see what all the fuss is about. You don't leave this movie thinking, "You know what? I actually hate retards now. I think I'll go taunt one." If you even need to give it a second thought, you think, "Wow, the guy who said all that was quite moronic. I'm glad I don't think like him." There was one small detail that did make me uncomfortable. In a scene featuring a discussion about adoption, Speedman's agent says he would be lucky to get to choose his kid, as he was "stuck with" his kid, and he holds up a photo. It is a split second thing and it is hard to make out if the kid is sad and broody or if they are trying to say he is developmentally delayed. If it is the latter than the idea that his dad is stuck with him is far more disturbing than any word that is bandied about. If it is the former then they did a poor job of conveying the idea. Either way we see the agent and his son at the end of the movie and they appear to be reconciled, but again, it is so fast it is hard to tell.

Ultimately, although there is a huge influence from this Simple Jack movie on the plot line and on the character of Tugg Speedman, it is not the central theme of the movie, and you will not be assaulted left and right with the "R" word. You will however hear every other filthy, crude and disgusting word ever meant to offend in the history of offensive words. I'm not kidding, they swear a lot. If they ever show this on network it will be cut down to 22 minutes and sound like one long dial tone. And it's worth every cringe-inducing utterance.

The movie has some breathtaking cinematography, and spectacular stunts and explosions. This is one of those movies that needs to be seen in the theater. If you go, make sure you get there early, you don't want to miss anything, she emphasizes because she doesn't want to give away the very beginning of the movie which, once she realized was a gag she found hilarious. The press made a big deal about the realistic way Downey was made up, but I found the most fascinating special effect was the character played by Tom Cruise. It took me a while to recognize who he was. I figured it out through his voice and his nose, which were his only features left unaltered. I didn't even know Cruise was in this movie, with all the hype about it being a Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr. movie. In fact it also features Matthew McConaughey and Nick Nolte. There are also lots of those "Oh, I've seen him before, he was in that movie. That's whatsisname" actors like Jay Baruchel and Steve Coogan. The characters that these and so many other great actors portray are all very multifaceted for a comedy. They all reveal secrets and vulnerabilities, and by the end of the movie they are all in some way redeemed. Well, all except a dead guy and the guy that personifies Hollywood, which will always remain unredeemable.

I was given a survey before entering the theater and on it were such questions as when did I decide to see this movie, where did I hear about it and would I recommend it to a friend. The answer to the last one is yes. I won't say you shouldn't see it unless you have a sense of humor because comedy is subjective and you should be allowed to laugh at whichever type of humor you choose. There is nothing wrong with not finding some things funny. I am one of the apparently miniscule percent of the population who thought There's Something About Mary was incredibly stupid. However, Tropic Thunder does seem to require a sense of perspective. If you go in looking to be offended you will not be disappointed. If you go in looking for a lot of laughs, gross-out humor, action and surprises, you will have a blast. So, go. Enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. I can't say that I'm really that interested in this movie. I'm not really a fan of Ben Stiller. In fact, he sort of bugs me. But, it's good to know that it's not a steaming pile.