culture/multiculturalism · movies

Thunderous Laughter

Robert Downey, Jr. plays Australian method actor in African-American role in Tropic Thunder.

Ben Stiller movies usually make me very, very uncomfortable. Kind of like the way I feel about Jack Black movies but at least in those, I have found myself laughing in spite of myself every now and again. Ben Stiller movies after There’s Something About Mary have mostly made me wince and cringe. So, it was with some apprehension that I let my husband drag me to Tropic Thunder. Not only is it a Ben Stiller movie, it’s a Ben Stiller movie that includes Jack Black AND uh, Robert Downey, Jr. playing an Australian method actor playing an African American in the movie within the movie within the movie within…. When the credits rolled, I braced myself to be offended.

And I was. There’s a reason why handicapped groups everywhere are asking people to boycott this film. Tropic Thunder is a satire that pokes fun at many things Hollywood, including Hollywood’s penchant for giving away Oscars to actors who play handicapped roles. Ben Stiller’s character in the film, Tug Speedman tries to get away from his action star persona by taking on such a role. The role is deeply disturbing in the way it portrays handicapped people. But we’re not supposed to laugh here, we ARE supposed to cringe. Cringeworthy spectacles abound in the film.

But I liked it. In the end, I found myself watching one of the funniest films I’ve ever watched. And Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey were all in it. That’s right, people, Tom Cruise is FUNNY in this film. (My husband didn’t even recognize Cruise.) The kind of funny that will have you rolling in your seats and bursting into laughter on the way out of the theater. The kind of funny that makes you rent and buy the DVD just so you can rewind it over and over and over again. Tropic Thunder is one of the few Ben Stiller films that manages the right balance by leaning towards the big laughs instead of the stuff that makes viewers look away.

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