Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tropic Thunder Preview Screening

Stiller Inc. - back with a bang!!!

I went along to an advance screening of Tropic Thunder last night - thanks again to those enlightened, generous people at the wonderful - and had some of the best belly laughs of recent times. Anybody who’s familiar with the Stiller package will have a good idea what to expect and judging by the enthusiastic (and somewhat blokey) audience profile, there’s a whole posse well hungry for this particular brand.

I won’t get into spoiler territory, but I think this one will have you you spitting popcorn out your nose on at least a couple of occasions, whether you’re a fan or not. It may not be quite the ‘Nam Zoolander’ that it has been touted as, but it’s damn near! While it looks like it was a lot of fun to make, its worth remembering that this is the movie Owen Wilson had to skip due to his hospitalisation - so maybe not quite so light a mood on set after all.

The plot sees a bunch of preening hollywood types bogged down, way behind schedule and over budget, in an expensive jungle shoot for a ‘nam memoir’ movie. In a desperate attempt to redeem himself and motivate his charges, the inexperienced brit director (a manic Steve Coogan) attempts to go ‘off the grid’, shooting guerilla stylee in the interior – with disasterous results. Trouble is, the actors are so self-immersed, it takes a while for the facts to catch up it with them in the form of some pretty real adversaries. Along the way, cliches are mined, dialogue is peppered and (of bloody course) truths are dispensed. With explosions, heroin and dentures.

As in the very, very funny ‘trailers’, Robert Downey Jr. is the best thing here. Much has been made of his character (think Russell Crowe meets Brad) going deep blackface, and much of the ‘plot’ hangs on (Stiller’s character) Tugg Speedman’s previous performance ‘going full retard’ – so there’s lots of pointy excrement-smeared sticks to poke any political correctness the audience might smuggle in. Jack Black is the most wonderfully-named ‘Jeff Portnoy’. Love it!

Along the way there’s great cameos, set-pieces, homage/pastiches and great, great oneliners. So all good then? Yeeeeeeeeeayyyyy-ish.

I was bugged by that increasingly common feeling that this really could have been an out-and-out classic. Given the premise and the cast, there was so much further these guys could have been taken. Downey Jr. is outstanding, Stiller does his ‘bambi with a brain of cheese’ bit again and Black goes through the motions – although he does get a couple of the great gags. Drop in Nick Nolte doing the ‘generic vet number 1’ gig, Matthew McConaughey doing Owen Wilson and a baldy Tom Cruise donning prosthetic hamhands to do the production’s ‘bigdick playa’ and you get much sending up of the hollywood machine. Problem is, Stiller Inc. now ARE the Hollywood machine. I was left with a distinct feeling that some of the best gags mightn’t have surved the ‘notes’ process, ending up on the floor. (Although some seem to have made it into the ‘making-of-making-of….’ documentary on youtube).

Unfortunately, scientologists don’t do humour – this one at least. Cruise’s wigga tyrant is initially a genuine treat, but overexposure turns him into the guy with the lampshade on his head at this particular party. A muddled third act, the ‘warm’ ending (complete with cutaway to clarify that ‘no kiddies were flung in the making of this movie) just seem to cop out from what could have been downright nasty fun.

But maybe I’m just picky. It’s still a whole bunch o’laffs – so check it, playa!