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November 25, 2008

DVD of the Week – Tropic Thunder (2008)

by HELEN GEIB

Tropic Thunder is not your typical Hollywood on Hollywood movie. Admittedly it takes aim at many of the genre’s usual targets, but the breadth and vigor of its attack set it apart. Rather than asking what sacred cows the film sets its sights on, asking what doesn’t it pin to the target better captures the spirit of the enterprise. The film shoots off rounds with wild abandon and while its aim is sometimes off, enough shots hit home to make Tropic Thunder a very funny movie.

The film skewers all the usual suspects of movies about making movies: soulless producers; ego-driven stars who wouldn’t recognize reality if it punched them in the eye; crazed Method actors; crazier writers; desperate agents; pretentious directors; and delusional fans. The tropes of overblown male-bonding action films supply the plot, which has actors filming on-location an overblown male-bonding Vietnam War drama who must simultaneously live out their parts and re-connect with reality when they inadvertently cross into the Golden Triangle and are mistaken for drug enforcement agents.

While the filmmakers extract plenty of laughs from the general situation and character interactions, the film’s highlight is unquestionably Robert Downey Jr.’s brilliant comic performance as the crazed Method actor. I went to see Tropic Thunder on the promise of Downey’s casting and his performance still exceeded my expectations.

What I enjoyed most next to Downey’s crazy actor, and even more than Matthew McConaughey’s desperate agent, was the way the film punctured the balloon of industry self-satisfaction by playing up the absurdities of Hollywood’s and film critics’ infatuation with Oscar. For the most part, the satire in Tropic Thunder is far from merciless; the film loves its characters and “the movies” even as it’s laughing at them. On this point, it aims right for the heart.

Special features include an audio commentary by stars Ben Stiller, Downey, and Jack Black and numerous short features on the making of the film.

New releases this week: Fred Claus, Hancock, Meet Dave, Space Chimps, Vicky Cristina Barcelona


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