Wednesday, 24 September 2008

MOVIES - Fumble In The Jungle


Directed by: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, Brandon T Jackson & Jay Baruchel.
Screenplay by: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux & Etan Cohen.
Rated: 15. Running time: 102 mins Distributor: DreamWorks Pictures.

Ben Stiller starring comedies pop up on a fairly regular basis. By now he’s made his way around at least half the leading ladies of Hollywood (Drew Barrymore, Jenifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz to name a few). A very different beast however is the Ben Stiller directed movie.

Ben Stiller has been directing movies ever since his film career began. It’s been a weird assortment of films that he’s added to his CV. He began with a Winona Ryder indie romance called ‘Reality Bites. Then he followed that with ‘The Cable Guy.’ This Jim Carrey film was a flop upon its initial release but has since found a cult audience and a switch in critical reception. It was all a question of timing as people where kind of ‘Jim Carrey’ed out at that stage and weren’t quite ready for his new dark direction. Timing is something he perfected to great aplomb for his next theatrical release. Stiller’s third film ‘Zoolander’ is his stone cold comedic classic. It’s an endlessly quotable tale of assassination and male modelling. Along with Anchorman it is one of the zeniths of recent American comedy.

So as his box office stature grew and he was teamed with yet another Hollywood starlet, critics and fans alike wondered what would happen next time he got behind the camera. Would he be able to top Zoolander or would we be all ‘Stiller’ed out by the time of its release?

Tropic Thunder, just like Zoolander, is a satire of a vacuous and egotistical world. This time Hollywood gets the boot and no part of tinsel town gets away unscathed. Stiller plays a washed up action hero unable to make the leap into proper drama. Robert Downey Jr plays a five time Oscar winning actor who only goes out of character after the DVD commentary. Jack Black is the drug fuelled fart peddling comedy guy who bares an uncanny resemblance to the late Chris Farley.

The film essentially plays as ‘The Three Amigos’ meets ‘Platoon’ as the spoilt actors end up getting involved in a real war without their knowledge. As they stumble through the jungle sometimes the gag rate hits an inconsistency. Occasionally this is because when they get it right it is so right that it’s a hard level to maintain. Other times it’s because some of the characters could do with more fleshing out. Jack Black, who usually rocks at this manic thing, only really comes to life later in this movie when he’s strapped to a tree. His wide eyed ‘Farley-isms’ just feel flatter than usual.

Maybe this is just in comparison with Downey Jr’s scene stealing turn as Kirk Lazarus, the most non politically correct character to appear on screen for some time. With ‘Iron Man’ and now this Downey Jr is at the peak of his career and it’s hard not to seem a little flat against that.

It doesn’t quite reach the Zoolander level of comedy highs. This might be because of the action element to it. Just like last weeks ‘Pineapple Express’ the humour in the final third does slow down in favour of some good old fashioned gun play. You get a lot more bang for your buck but a chuckle would do equally as well.

What ‘Tropic Thunder’ has proved however is that this is a good time for American comedy movies. This is the third successive week where a strong comedy has opened in the box office and for that I salute you.

That Ben Stiller. He’s so hot right now.

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