I don’t have a lot of connections in Hollywood, but I have a few, and one of the stories I’ve heard about ridiculous actor behavior involves none other than Ben Stiller. Apparently, when Stiller is on set, he will not allow anyone to look him in the eye. Doing so breaks his mojo, screws up his rhythm, damages that intimate bond the actor has with his craft, and makes him think that you’re constructing an elaborate fantasy in your mind involving Christine Taylor, midgets, and Cheez Whiz. So if you’re on set during one of Stiller’s movies and you’re, say, the donut guy and you bring Stiller a donut and look him in the eye, you are quite quickly saying derogatory things about “Envy” and “Along Came Polly” in the unemployment line. Stiller’s inadvertent eye contact with somebody so obviously below his stature on the grand scale of humanity is more important than allowing that person a means to earn a living.
That makes “Tropic Thunder” a nice case of the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think? The reason “Tropic Thunder” is receiving good reviews is that critics get all excited whenever the monkeys in the Hollywood zoo start throwing feces at each other. It’s chic to make these cute little movies about anonymous antics. Stiller, who co-wrote the movie with Justin Theroux, isn’t targeting anyone specifically, so everything is okay. Mention somebody by name in Hollywood and you get in all sort of trouble and you’re immediately outcast. So as long as Stiller’s movie is about somebody else, it’s okay. Far be it from Stiller to step up and explain what a dick he is on set or for him to say specifically who he’s satirizing.
Stiller is Tugg Speedman, an action hero with a huge ego. He’s doing a war movie with fellow egotists, Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson). Also on the film is Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). To add realism to the movie, director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), decides to drop the gang in an actual battle zone without telling them. Lazarus is obviously the most self-absorbed of the group. A white Australian actor, Lazarus has an operation to darken his skin so he can play a black man in the film. Tom Cruise is also present in a cameo role as an obnoxious agent, which is a portrayal we’ve seen over and over again and is hardly new. Kevin Spacey did the exact same thing in “Swimming with Sharks”.
I won’t say much more other than I was underwhelmed by the satire. I mean, so what? However, there was also some controversy generated by the film because Stiller’s character is best known for playing a mentally handicapped person in a faux film called “Simple Jack”. He and Lazarus have a conversation in which Lazarus points out that “you can never go full retard”. This use of words caused the National Association for the Ethical Treatment of Retards to boycott the film because retard is a horrible, horrible word. Look people, it certainly does nothing for your cause when you’re defending people with mental disabilities and you’re not smart enough to understand the satire involved when a stupid, self-absorbed set of actors uses the word “retard” because they don’t know any better. It’s not a comment on the mentally-handicapped. It’s a comment on dumb actors and their inane logic and a pretty effective use of irony.
Besides, saying “you can never go full mentally-handicapped” just doesn’t sound very funny.
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