Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller’s latest vehicle as a director seems to work and fail on the same levels. At times, it seems like it wants to be a serious war film and yet, at other times (ones usually not set in Vietnam), it seems like it wants to be a comedy.

And the times when these things mix it seems like a lazy attempt at blending the genres.

True, the movie is a comedy. It even starts with three trailers and one commercial to immediately setup the characters and their personas.

From there, though, it runs into the problem of being two films trying to blend and mold and never quite succeeding.

The first film is one set in Vietnam and surrounds an Apocalypse Now-sized fiasco.

The second film is set in Hollywood and revolves around the studio executive and his henchmen as well as Ben Stiller’s agent.

In Vietnam, the jokes are all one-liners and all the physicality comes in the form of action.

In Hollywood, the jokes come mostly in the form of sight gags in the form of Tom Cruise as said studio executive.

Because of this, there is discord between the two story lines.

It feels as if the whole of the Hollywood setup could have been cut out. It just seemed unnecessary even though they provide some of the funniest scenes of the film.

This all pulls me into an internal debate over what makes a decent spoof film.

What was it that made Mel Brooks’ spoofs so good?

What about Shoot’em Up?

And as I mulled over this question the answer came to me as why I felt such a discord between storylines:

The Hollywood scenes break character from the war scenes to allow for cheap laughs.

It’s fear that keeps those scenes in. Fear of being too esoteric of a film—which it could’ve been.

That’s why I thought the laughs created by Tom Cruise’s character were cheap. They broke up the feel and flow of the well-done scenes within Vietnam.

At times, fear can do some funny things.

But, in this movie, they weren’t very funny in context.

The Hollywood scenes were typical Ben Stiller, over the top, fair while the Vietnam scenes were not—they were subtly funny instead of fat-guy-dancing funny.

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