(Originally published in buzz magazine on 8-16-08)
Despite Tropic Thunder’s annoying tendency to beat us with the same jokes until they’re not funny any more, I have to admit one thing: Ben Stiller’s new action/comedy has a lot of balls.
His first writing/directing/acting project since the fashionably silly Zoolander (2001) is winning over critics at the same time it alienates large groups of people, particularly those with mental disabilities. The Special Olympics and Down Syndrome Association have already spoken out against characters’ repetitive use of the word “retard” when referring to Speedman’s title role in the melodramatic tearjerker Simple Jack.
My gripe with Thunder is not its offensive humor; the naughty comedy points a critical finger at Hollywood’s transgressions. If handled better, it could have been brilliant slice of metacinema, but the script’s sloppy synthesis of overdone jokes ruins the experience. Sure, I laughed at Stiller’s satire of racism, misogynism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and a whole slew of other phobias and isms — at first. After awhile, though, the comedic spark burnt out, and, much like Speedman and his acting colleagues, the cast didn’t work well together.
But don’t take my word for it. I must be alone in my thinking that Pineapple Express was much better; practically every critical publication except the New York Times and the Village Voice touted Tropic Thunder it as this summer’s best comedy. Go figure.
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