Review by Nathan Samdahl (B-)
Once again I made the mistake I always try to avoid. That mistake of course is to come into Tropic Thunder with too high of expectations. While the trailers were never phenomenal, I found it hard to imagine a film that starred Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Nick Nolte and Tom Cruise to be an endeavor that would end up being surprisingly flat and that would miss the comic mark so many times. Don't get me wrong, the film has hilarious moments, mostly courtesy of Downey Jr. who plays the leading African American role in the film within the film. Also, the visuals are fantastic, thanks to one of my favorite cinematographers John Toll (The Thin Red Line, Braveheart). But despite having almost every conceivable element working in favor of the film being great, it just isn't.
While it is convenient to fall back and place the blame solely on the director, in this case Ben Stiller, it has to be said that this film is sizably larger in scope than any other Ben Stiller-directed film, his next most notable being Zoolander. His movies succeed in being wildly over-the-top throughout, which is perhaps why this one fumbles a bit. Tropic Thunder is most certainly a comedy, but with some pretty extensive action/war sequences including an opening scene somewhat reminiscent of the battle scenes in We Were Soldiers, it doesn't always seem properly focused. Despite all of the humor infused into these action sequences, it perhaps feels a bit too realistic to focus only on the comedy of the situation. This is even more the case later in the film, when Stiller is captured by actual rebels and is tortured. While part of this torture involves Stiller's character Speedman reviving his role as "Simple Jack," a Radio-like flop that epitomized the character's career as of late, even this humorous scenario does not entirely outweigh the seriousness of his situation.
It seems that this movie struggled a bit with its intended direction. If it had chosen to take an even more over-the-top, less realistic approach it could have been absolutely hilarious throughout. However, as is, some of the more serious moments make the comedic ones that directly follow fall a bit flat. In some cases though, the comedy just falls short on its own accord, which is most pronounced with the rap dancing scenes with Tom Cruise, who plays the crazy financier of the seemingly doomed-to-finish film. His dancing over the end credits was one of those moments where you hope and pray that he won't and when he does it sends a wave of silence over the humor-desiring crowd. Cruise and McConaughey, who plays Speedman's eager to please agent, surprisingly end up being the biggest comedic flops in this one.
Certainly here I have focused on the lesser aspects of Tropic Thunder. This is mostly because the film's concept is fantastic and with a slightly reworked script and a clearer focus on what the film wanted to be, this could have easily been one of the funniest films in years. As is, Robert Downey Jr. is well worth the ticket price, his appearance and voice alone are priceless and despite the film's occasional awkwardness he always is able to deliver a knockout line to bring the laughs. See this movie, but don't bring the same expectations as I did. Without them, you should be able to enjoy Tropic Thunder as a clever and funny summer romp.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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