Tropic Thunder

I rewatched Tropic Thunder with the best of intentions. I really did. I wanted to see it again because I thought that it was the sort of movie that would easily lead to an interesting review. After all, it’s a movie about some actors who go to the jungle to film a war movie but end up getting trapped in an actual war, and that sort of meta-premise allows you to talk about war, or war movies, or how we talk about war movies, or about how we talk about how we talk about war movies. (I was actually pretty interested in that last topic because I’ve grown fairly tired of Hollywood made satires about how Hollywood makes movies and I think that Tropic Thunder’s approach to satirizing modern war movies isn’t nearly as smart as it thinks it is.)

Also, it’s a movie that’s anchored by a bunch of lead performers that I have strong opinions about. For example, Ben Stiller stars as a fading action hero who is hoping that this new war movie will reignite his career and I think his performance here exemplifies a lot of his worst habits. There’s nothing wrong with the Tugg Speedman character on the page, but Stiller has an innate uptightness that can take a lighthearted joke and turn it into a condescending put-down; his smirky delivery adds a holier-than-thou element to the matieral that seems unfair, especially given that Stiller isn’t that different from a lot of the actors he’s mocking. After all, he has also made a lot of sell-out movies (in particular he's done a bunch of broad family comedies) and his career has also had it’s ebbs and flows, so all the potshots he takes at other actors seem a bit like low-blows.

Then you’ve got Jack Black, who plays a heroin addicted comedian who is suddenly forced to detox after his stash gets lost. Black was one of my favorite comedians once upon a time but he kind of wore out his welcome around this point. Jack Black’s humor has always been powered by a very specific contradiction: he would talk about very adult subjects in a very juvenile way (i.e. Tenacious D’s songs about sex which sounded like they were written by horny middle schoolers, but they were actually written by middle aged men.) But at a certain point he got a little too old to play that role – a man-child at twenty is funny, a man-child at forty is desperate. The first time I saw this movie I thought his performance was incredibly irritating, and while I liked it more this second time there are definitely moments where he comes across as too shrill to be a good fit for this sort of broad comedy.

Then there’s the two roles that Tropic Thunder is most well known for: you’ve got an unbilled Tom Cruise playing an agent in a fat suit and you’ve got Robert Downey Jr. playing a white actor who is doing the movie-in-the-movie in blackface. But while I do think you could do a legitimate deconstruction of the hype around Cruise’s performance – it was a light comic turn that was well received by a public that was increasingly becoming wary of Cruise, whose connections to Scientology had slowly damaged his credibility – but I’m not the right person to write that deconstruction because I’m not great at gossip-writing, which is basically what that would be. (But I do want to point out that I think it's weird how much he was able to leverage the tiny bit of goodwill that role garnered him for years afterwards.)  And I’m also not the right guy to write about Downey’s performance, because the racial implications of his Kirk Lazarus role are very, very tricky, which means that it’s probably best if I, a random white male, keep my two cents to myself.

 My cat in her beloved outdoors

My cat in her beloved outdoors

But as much as I would love to explore these topics both large and small in great detail, I can’t. There’ a simple reason why: it’s because my brain is barely working today. I have spent most of my morning literally fighting to keep my eyes open. (And yes, I am using “literally” correctly. Before I broke down and bought an energy drink to supplement my coffee my eyelids were emphatically demanding that I return to slumberland.) I’m so tired for a simple reason: because my cat is a monster.

The cat likes to go hunting in the pre-dawn hours. I get it. She eats small woodland creatures for fun and that’s probably when the local neighborhood mice are the most active. But here’s the thing: I also wake up to go to work at a pre-dawn hour. There’s no need for her to try to rouse me to let her out at 5 a.m. because it’s still dark out when I wake up at 6 a.m. I keep explaining this to her, but no matter how much I explain clock time and sleep cycles to her she continues to not get it.

By this point I’ve gotten used to being woken up an hour before my alarm that that interruption has become part of my sleep cycle. Normally I just go right back to sleep afterwards and it’s totally fine. Today, however, something strange happened: I woke up at 5 wondering why she wasn’t barking orders at my face, and then when I rolled over I realized that the reason why she didn’t wake me up was because she didn’t need to. The window – which was definitely closed when I went to bed – was somehow already open. Did I open it in my sleep and then forget about it? How long had it been open? Has she completely taken over my mind?

It really weirded me out – I have no history of getting up and moving around while I’m asleep. That out-of-body feeling really woke me up, and so it took me awhile to get back to sleep after I shut the window again. Then when I was asleep again I was deeply, deeply asleep, so when my alarm clock went off it really caught me off guard. I was lying in bed groggy and confused, debating about calling into work and begging for a two hour reprieve, wondering if even that would be enough, when I heard a familiar sound: the cat meowing at the window. Now that it was six a.m. she was ready to come back inside and eat from her endless bowl of kibble, probably because she hadn’t bothered to eat the cute little animals she murdered for no goddamn reason at all.

So to recap: Tropic Thunder is fine, but it’s a complicated fine, I’m exhausted, and the cat is an asshole. The end.

Winner: Draw

Tropic Thunder on IMDB