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Aug 27, 2008

Fletch's Mini Film Review: Tropic Thunder

Using the "Mini Film Review" designation this time as a mask and as a way of saying "here are some totally unstructured, poorly tied-together thoughts on Tropic Thunder." Hooray disorganization (double hooray made up words)!

* First of all - seeing Tom Cruise having fun and turning off the intense-o-meter is a welcoming, funny change. Whether or not the role itself would be half as funny without Cruise, I leave for you to decide. One thing that was decidedly unfunny, though, was the "wild and carazy" love of hip-hop and dancing. Less offensive than just plain lazy, it showed a real weakness in the film's writing, where it was otherwise strong.

* With that said, of course I found Matthew McConnaghey's role to be much more of a career booster and more interesting than Cruise's. It wasn't zany and didn't require that he wear a fat suit, but for a guy that has (despite being talented) become more or less a joke in recent years, it showed that he too could make fun of himself. Though I was shocked at the size of his role; what I thought was a cameo was more of a supporting role.

* It's too easy to congratulate Robert Downey, Jr. on his tour-de-force performance and to deride Jack Black (and the writers) for his one-note tune as a heroin-addicted funny man, but what I was wondering was whether or not Black's character hit a little too close to home for Downey. I imagine it didn't too much, as Downey has been supposedly clean for a few years now, but certainly if had to cross someone's mind at some point.

* That said, one of the best things about the film is Jackson's character, Alpa Chino, if for no other reason than the existence of such a fictional character may spare us from a real-life rapper with that (inspired but) obnoxious name. I'm beyond appreciative. (If you're somehow unaware of the connection between Alpa Chino and real-life rappers, go here.)

* Regarding the lack of females and the relatively small usage of Brandon Jackson (the lone true black character), I've seen some discussion that excuses Stiller and gang. Some have even gone so far as to say that, in the spirit of this Hollywood send-up, Stiller was cognizant of this fact and purposefully underused Jackson and didn't feature women as a way of spotlighting the problem of a lack of female and minority characters in Hollywood.

What an absolutely brilliant piece of bullsh*t. I think Stiller's a bright guy and all, but he's not that many steps ahead of the curve. A joke of a theory, but I love the way that it both excuses and congratulates the filmmakers for doing the same old thing. Genius.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"It's in the hole!"


17 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Mini Film Review: Tropic Thunder"

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

I actually thought that Black's role, for what it was, wasn't that bad. His role wasn't as big as the trailers made it seem, and his facial expressions were freakin' fantastic.

The movie was much more about Stiller and Downey Jr., but everybody under them (minus Nolte and McBride) got an equal amount of time.

I'm not sure that Cruise dancing and listening to rap was "wild and crazy" as much as it was a cheap laugh. It worked. I laughed.

And uhh...McConnaghey was so good that I didn't even realize that it was him until the credits.

Daniel G. said...

That last asterisk point is a really interesting one that I haven't heard. Now that I have, I agree with you.

Fletch said...

Paul - I guess I have a problem more with the "for what it was" part of Black's role. It might have been better to roll the drug-addicted actor stereotype into one of the other characters and kill two birds with one stone. It just ended up being too much of the same.

And yeah, they might have done better to cast a lesser-known actor in the role and just promoted more of Stiller and Downey.

Yes, a cheap laugh. But too cheap, especially when compared to how smart and biting some of the other stuff was. Even the surprise death (and subsequent gross-out) was played better.

Daniel - I'm sure you can find it somewhere amongst the LAMBs...I'm sure that's where I saw it.

Nick said...

Yeah... as I said in my review, I thought Jay Baruchel had a much bigger and/or more important (if not just all-around better) role than Black, yet Black got the listing... so...

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

He's the big star though. A draw. Plus, there aren't many people out there who can do faces like Black or who are as willing to talk about "swallowing the gravy."

Watching him take out the kid and gouge the two guys eyes out with heroin was awesome though.

Fox said...

I totally agree with you on McConnaghey in this film. I thought he was charming and very watchable.

We disagree on the hip-hop dancing of Cruise though. In it's absurd way I thought it both showed Hollywood bigwig's detachment from culture as well as how blindly cocksure they are of themselves.

Dead Pan said...

Unlike everyone else I agree with you about the Cruise dancing scenes. I thought they were lazy and very remniscent of Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet The Spartans, etc.

Fletch said...

Nick - yep, big names sell the tickets. Though it is misleading; with Black being first alphabetically, he more or less has top billing (though we all knew Stiller was the star).

Same thing happened with Traitor (saw this last night). Said Taghmaoui (Three Kings) is easily the 2nd lead, but doesn't even appear on the poster as far as I can tell. Sad.

RE: the dancing. Paul said it best: it was a cheap laugh. Unfortunately, I'm not really a fan of cheap laughs, or physical comedy in general.

Daniel G. said...

As far as I know, billing order has little to do with marketing and even less to do with screen time and/or role. My understanding is that it's 100% according to the contract between the studio and the actor's representation; depending on the movie most stars will only work for first, second or third billing, and that determines poster placement and order in the opening credits. That's why you'll see some established stars get 10 minutes of screen time but second or third billing on the poster. It's just good business on their part, as it also often determines their pay for that movie.

Clearly, Stiller, RDJ, and Black had top billing on TT, but as we've all mentioned, that doesn't necessarily mean they had the most significant roles or screen time. They just had the juiciest contracts in this case, and may have been paid the most.

I'm sure of about 60% of what I just said. Somebody feel free to correct me.

Fletch said...

I don't think there's one concrete answer. Billing order can be affected by any number of criteria - all of the things you list amongst them.

Schwarzenneger got top billing on Batman & Robin (oops, bad idea) not because of screen time, but because a) he demanded it, b) he was far and away the biggest star in the film and c) he got paid a hell of a lot more than anyone else.

As for my Traitor example, I doubt highly that Jeff Daniels demanded any sort of billing or poster placement; the fact is, he's one of the more recognizable stars in the film, thus despite his limited screen time, he's featured there instead of a non-North American actor. I'm sure on the French poster, Taghmaoui will be much more involved with the marketing.

This is all a long way of saying that only big stars can negotiate "top billing"; most I'm sure is set my studios and their marketing departments.

Daniel G. said...

Good points. At least we agree that it has nothing to do with how involved the actor or actress is in the actual movie.

In cases like Schwarzenegger's, yes, he was so massive that the whole thing gets screwed up.

I can't say I know much about international marketing strategies, though I don't deny your suggestions. In the case of Traitor, I don't think Daniels could have negotiated for higher billing anyway, as he hasn't done too much of late to "deserve" it (let's just forget his criminally overlooked work in The Lookout). Sucks for him.

But then Traitor is a weird example because the average viewer will only recognize him and Cheadle by name. People like McDonough and Taghmaoui are classics for your FF-UN club, and Guy Pearce is even slipping. Can people name even three of his movies off the top of their head - NOT including Memento and LA Confidential?

I guess my point is that these star vehicles don't really have billing issues. Cheadle is the movie (which, by the way, I didn't think was very good...).

Fletch said...

RE Pearce - hey, we even saw First Snow in the theater. We're big fans of his. I could probably name a bunch: Priscilla Queen of the Desert and The Time Machine are just a couple others.

Getting way off topic here, but I love Taghmaoui. I need to dig back into his older films; as it is, I love seeing him pop up, though it sucks when it's as a terrorist-type.

Damnit, Daniel - I thought I actually saw a "small" film before you. Where's your review? (I'm currently writing mine.)

Daniel G. said...

lol, yeah there was a last minute public preview of this one on Monday night. Otherwise you would have had me (and it wouldn't have been the first time). I still have to write it, but I'm already a couple movies behind - Frozen River, Elegy, and Transsiberian.

I think your fandom of Pearce is uncommon, even though I happen to like the guy. I could only think of The Proposition. Since you mentioned The Time Machine, I can't not declare that it's one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Maybe that's why I forgot it.

I like Taghmaoui as well, but I think this is only like the 4th or 5th time I've seen him. Definitely a FF-UN candidate.

Fletch said...

Well at least I get the satisfaction of knowing that you're way behind on reviews. ;)

The Time Machine was indeed awful, though it's almost enjoyably bad. Not quite, but almost.

Yeah, I've only seen Taghmaoui in Traitor, Vantage Point, Three Kings and a Kate Winslet flick whose name I can't recall at the moment. He'll definitely be a featured FF-UN in the future...

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

I'm the one who is way behind on the reviews. I haven't even gotten around to Pineapple Express yet.

last minute cruise deals said...

i thought i would love this movie, but im sorry i watched it. I think this is a really well written review though, great post!

Cheers,
Melanie

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