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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Movie Revie: Thunder Lumbers - Too Few Laughs in H-Wood Farce

Poor Ben Stiller. His big budget action spoof Tropic Thunder is a high-concept spoof that centers around a hollow, one-dimensional actor who is paired with a far more talented method type who seems to be stealing the movie they are starring in out from under him. As in life.

Stiller directs and stars in this loud Rambo send-up but the movie belongs firmly in the hands of the incredible Robert Downey Jr. - in blackface no less. Stiller creates the idea of a character but he rarely gets deeper than a few set beats - there's barely anything there to relate to let alone laugh at. Most of the chuckles he gets are visual rather than intrinsic character-based laughs. Most of the time he simply looks like a constipated greyhound. The difference between his performance here and the execrable Heartbreak Kid is Stiller's wide-eyed innocent boob routine.

Downey on the hand chomps on his character of an Australian uber-Method actor who dyes his skin in service of playing a Jim Brown-esque Seargeant just like he chomps on his prop cigar. His commitment to the character of an actor who's commitment to character is total Where Stiller expresses emotions by either scrunching or smoothing is forehead Downey is all about the eyes. There's a scene in which his entire head is covered and all you see are those orbs and he makes it funny, just with what he communicate ocularly.

Some other reliably funny folks like Jack Black as a rotund cross between Eddie Murphy and Larry the Cable Guy and Steve Coogan as a hapless first-time director have to make the best of some pretty spotty material.

There's also been a great deal of chatter about Tom Cruise in the film, who plays a vulgarian Hollywood executive of the sort that keeps moving Valkyrie around the release schedule. It's a funny, creepy character but it hardly needs the screentime. It is a nice change for Cruise who essentially plays the same asshole redeemed by his sense of community in every damn filmbut it adds little to the movie. I did mention it's creepy right?

A good microcosm of the entire film can be found at the beginning with a series of fake previews that had the elderly couple behind me fooled ("Boy there sure is a lot of crap coming out this fall") . Stiller's is kind of standard issue action sequel parody- not much more than a sight gag. Black's is chucklesome - fart humor to the nth degree with a sprinkle of condescension. Downey's is utterly brilliant, with he and Tobey Maguire as monks in a Brokeback Mountain wink.

It would have been interesting to see Downey rather than Black take a page out of the Eddie Murphy playbook. I believe he could have played all the characters in Tropic Thunder and squeezed more juice out of each role. As it stands the film is mildly amusing but little more.

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