(Regular DHD readers know I don’t do geek. But frequent LA Weekly film reviewer and comic book expert Luke Y Thompson does. He spends all year waiting for Comic-Con and this time he’s covering it for me. Here’s his latest report.)
Paramount may not be showing us any new STAR TREK, but they’re showing the heck out of this, with screenings almost every night. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that they took the time to shoot a special Comic-Con exclusive intro, with Jack Black, Ben Stiller, and Robert Downey Jr. all trying to prove their “fanboy cred.”
Stiller says he was always a big Xena and Buffy fan. Downey name-drops “Tony Stark” into every other sentence. Black, who actually looks like a stereotypical comic-con attendee, ridicules them both. Downey tells fans that if they buy the IRON MAN DVD they can win his original mask. Stiller shows off Spock ears and a Gorn mask from the original STAR TREK that he says he bought at an auction. Black: “You’re not a fanboy, you’re just a rich enthusiast!” Downey offers viewers a chance to win a weekend with him, where “I might go up in you, in character, as Tony Stark.”
You can’t follow that. So the movie begins. And does so with similar humor, as we get a few fake trailers — astonishingly, these blatantly mock movie studios other than Paramount, using their official logos too! So from Universal, a big dumb global-warming themed action movie called SCORCHER VI. From New Line (ah, I miss them already!), dumb-ass fart-joke comedy MEET THE FATTIES PART 2. And from Fox Searchlight, an awards contender entitled SATAN’S ALLEY, with Tobey Maguire as a gay monk. Kudos to all three studios for running with the joke, though I’m not sure Joe Average in the heartland will get studio-specific satire.
That’s okay, though — there’s plenty more to get. Though you certainly know by now that the movie is about a group of spoiled actors making a war movie who run afoul of a real enemy force in the jungle, what you may not know is that the movie’s “real” world is just as absurd as that of the film within a film.
I’ve been waiting a long time for Ben Stiller to deliver a movie like this as director; a movie like his old TV sketch comedy show, to be precise. It was a huge diappointment a decade or so ago when the guy responsible for such a funny series got the directorial reins of a feature and it turned out to be REALITY BITES. And then THE CABLE GUY. And ZOOLANDER.
But this is funny and savvy satire. It’s a bit too self-aware to be biting, exactly, though, despite Tom Cruise’s much ballyhooed performance (it’s more than just a cameo) as a foul-mouthed studio exec who talks in war terminology. Cruise was easily the audience’s favorite, especially during one scene where he references outer space, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Paramount is already hard at work cutting TV spots focusing on his character. Cruise’s character sums up the movie in a microcosm — it’s Hollywood saying, “Look, we know we’re insane, and so do you. Here, we’re gonna let you laugh at us for a whole movie, just this one time.” There seems to be just the slightest hint of self-congratulation to it, like all involved think really highly of themselves for acting so dumb. But that’s Stiller in a nutshell too.
And it works. After the show, audience members outside were busy reciting favorite lines. One of my own faves comes from Danny McBride as the film’s explosives expert: “I’m tryin’ to put Tiger Balm on this jungle’s nuts!” There are too many to count from Robert Downey Jr. His exchange with Stiller’s character about the degree of mental retardation the Academy will accept in an Oscar-nominated character is on-the-mark hilarious (“Never go full-retard!”). Downey’s character could easily have come across as racist in the wrong hands, but he plays it just right, and is ably counteracted by relative newcomer Brandon T. Jackson, playing a misogynist rapper named Alpa Chino (say it out loud to get the joke).
As for Jack Black… one has to wonder if Stiller’s experiences working with Andy Dick on TV were any kind of inspiration.
It’s no stretch to point out that TROPIC THUNDER is exactly what it’s parodying — a big, dumb, loud, star-studded entertainment undoubtedly made by spoiled brats and crazies. When the relatively unknown actor Jay Baruchel tells his costars within the film that he hoped he’d get laid as a result of appearing in a movie with them, it’s easy to imagine him thinking that in reality too.