From time to time, Hollywood loves to make movies about itself.
It's a place so insular and self-centered that it's convinced that everyone else on the
planet is as enraptured as they are about themselves and the going-ons behind the scenes.
That is the central theme behind the new rambunctious, and very hit-or-miss comedy Tropic Thunder.
It's an occasionally funny comedy that actually isn't nearly as funny or as clever as it thinks it is. It's mainly aimed for people who like to delude themselves that they're "in the know" about the movie business although most of the really savage satire would sail right over their heads without them having a clue.
Marking his return to the director's seat since his unfunny Zoolander and the underrated and dangerously subversive The Cable Guy,
Ben Stiller plays a fading action movie star who is working on a big budget Hollywood action flick about the Vietnam War, that is being shot on location in Vietnam, alongside fellow actors
Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson. Jackson plays a rapper with the name of Alpa Chino (say it loud to yourself), who is acting in his first film.
However it's obvious from the very start that the film's clueless, stressed out, neophyte Brit director (Coogan) is in way over his head and the film quickly winds up over budget and way
behind schedule, incurring the anger of the film's extremely foul mouthed, hyper-aggressive producer (Tom Cruise wearing a bald wig, scraggly beard, fat gut and profuse chest hair).
Desperate to save the film, and more importantly his career, Coogan gets
rid of most of the film crew and comes up with the insane idea of dropping
his actors in the middle of nowhere in the jungle to make a low budget,
guerilla style movie with hidden video cameras placed all around as they
struggle to make it out on their own.
Of course there wouldn't be much of plot of things didn't quickly go from bad to worse, (as it does) and the actors find themselves tangling with dangerous real drug dealing guerillas led by a 12-year-old kid (Soo Hoo), though the actors are too imbecilic and self-centered to realize that they're not making a film anymore and their situation is for real.
Though Thunder definitely has its genuinely funny moments especially
due to Jack Black, who while relegated mainly to the background at first
eventually comes into his own with some hilarious crazed behavior and
rudely twisted lines, the film suffers badly from a lumpy pace with its
uneven storyline and too many scenes of people screaming at each other for
no apparent reason.
It's also dragged down by one too many inside jokes about the business that are not even that funny for those who gets who's being spoofed such as McConaughey's manic part inspired by real life super agent Ari Emanuel, Coogan's take on the real British film director Sam Mendes
(Jarhead) and especially Cruise's character who's a blatant mockery of legendary producer Scott Rudin (No Country for Old Men) who's famous in the business for his volcanic temper and tyrannical behavior.
However, no doubt most of the attention will center around Robert Downey's
Kirk Lazarus, a Russell Crowe type known for his intensity and hard drinking behavior who's so dedicated to his craft that to play a black man in the film he undergoes cosmetic surgery to look black to play the part. Of course the concept is intentionally outrageous and decidedly non-PC
with the image of a white guy in modern day blackface to illustrate how ridiculous Lazarus is, especially in his awkward and embarrassing attempts to portray a black man.
And besides, since it's the current "Mr. Cool of Hollywood" Iron Man himself, so how bad could it be? But when it gets down to the basic core of the idea, the fact of the matter is that blackface is still blackface regardless.
Another problem as well with the basic concept it that doesn't make sense either.
Although the film is a comedy and a satire of the film business, why would a producer and director in the film hire a white guy to play the part of the black guy? Wouldn't it have made more sense to have a black actor spoofing another established, serious black actor such as Forest Whitaker or Denzel Washington?
Things are not helped either with Jackson's rapper character (who's the only black person in the entire film) basically playing a character that is barely a step above Flava Flav. If Lazarus' character was conceived as an attack on the image of blacks in cinema, then neither him
nor Jackson's character help in any way. And, in this new age of Obama, the whole thing falls flat.
After everything is taken in, what we have left with Tropic Thunder is a film that could have been a whole a lot sharper and better. There are truly funny and outrageous moments, but unfortunately, the film becomes sluggish as it repeats itself again and again to an increasingly lesser effect.
Perhaps if the filmmakers had stopped gazing into the mirror a tad less often and weren't as convinced that they were so much more clever than the audience, Tropic Thunder might have been a better film.