Tropic Thunder: A sweaty, dirty ray of sunshine

Kinda like Best Friend’s Day only with rippling biceps and air conditioning! Go get your ticket now!

I read a folk story once about this guy who was lost in the woods for some weeks and found some old crone who gave him what he thought was the most delicious dish in the world but what turned out later to be something akin to Dirt Soup. Anyway, the point was that when we are truly starved for something, any sample of it – even of the poorest quality – will taste like the food of the gods.

At the risk of rambling on about personal stuff (although Matt White gets to do it every week), this weekend I embarked on a really ill-fated rat king of a trip. In fact, at time of writing, I am still on it. Now it’s just my old nemesis, JFK Airport, between me and my home and cats and allergy medicine,* but two days ago I had what seemed like an endless succession of effed up plans ahead of me. Yesterday, I ended up in Boston with my excellent friend from Chicago, who had run into her own personalized set of travel disasters, and we limply, exhaustedly staggered over to a movie theater, ready to sit for a few hours in the A/C and take whatever Ben Stiller cared to deliver.

Also, I ask you to remember that I was still smarting from last week’s utter Judd Apatow disappointment, and although the cold, dark lump that until this weekend had once been my heart still had enough life left inside it to muster up some tremors on behalf of Robert Downey, Jr., I wasn’t expecting to be mightily impressed.

But you know what? Screw all of this. I don’t need any excuses. I laughed more during the first five minutes of Tropic Thunder than I have laughed during all of the movies I’ve seen this summer combined. Except for a few parts that spent too long delving into male bonding territory (zzzzzz),** this film was just what I needed to get back on my feet.

You’ve seen the ads – Tropic Thunder is about the egos, insecurity, coddling, stupidity, self-obsession, and ass-kissing that is the commercial filmmaking industry. So we are led to believe, anyway, because theoretically, the makers of this film (Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux aka John Hancock) (yow!) are also products of this industry, yet they seem pretty self-aware. Most interestingly, the ultimate poster boy for the borderline crazy image-obsessed actor is part of Tropic Thunder’s cast (you probably already know who it is, but I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t).

If this were a political campaign, the stock in these guys (and they are ALL guys, which certainly indicates SOMEthing about the industry, whether or not that’s intentional) would be going way up. It’s funny how people can absolve themselves of their past tendency to be ridiculous, as long as they own up to how ridiculous they are. And holy crap! Nothing is more hysterical to me than the idea of, say, Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, or Colin Farrell (oh man, especially Colin Farrell) whining about TiVo while dodging bullets.

That’s the premise of Tropic Thunder, by the way – the action star, the comic buffoon, the respected actor, the hip hop star turned actor, and the newbie…all lost in the hostile jungle, unsure if they’re still making a movie about ‘Nam. Anything else I tell you will ruin the magic (don’t read any other reviews before you go, dude, they seem to be 95% plot summary and give away many of the surprising details), but I will say that more than once during the film I wondered how much my beloved Zoolander might have been improved with the addition of RD,Jr. The tone of Tropic Thunder is less silly than Stiller’s previous film, the characters more believable (it’s easier to recognize figures from Hollywood than from the male modeling industry), the acting better, the script smarter, and the lack of tired old Owen Wilson a blessing.

Now go see it before you hear too much about it and lose interest. To reap the maximum benefit, try to throw some missed flights, lost hotel reservations, awkward social situations, and/or sleep deprivation into the mix. Or just see Pineapple Express directly beforehand and you should be good. In fact, I’m starting to believe that this movie has turned my luck around. Everything’s been coming up Howson since I left that theater. My flight is actually boarding,*** I’ve finally been able to track down a Diet Coke, and some cute kid near me keeps shouting “THANK YOU!” over and over again. If I weren’t tired and covered in bug bites (long story), I’d be doing the same thing. Thanks, Ben Stiller. You’ve really made my weekend, which was no small feat.

*In fact, as I write this, I’m hunched on the floor near the gate, jealously guarding the one electrical socket I could find, and there is an older, maybe intoxicated lady who just walked up to where I am sitting on the floor and is just standing here, swaying dangerously in platform flip flops while I cringe in anticipation of the crash.

**OMG! The woman is back! I just looked up for a second and saw the flip flops come to a screeching, swaying halt in front of me. Then they turned around suddenly and lurched off to a nearby chair. Maybe she wants my power outlet?? OR MY SOUL?

***Drunk lady (it’s 11am, by the way) just got on a flight to Baltimore. Ahem.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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