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PCR #438 (Vol. 9, No. 33) This edition is for the week of August 11--17, 2008.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Tropic Thunder"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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The Tampa Film Review for August  by Nolan Canova and Chris Woods
"Tropic Thunder"  by Mike Smith
Let's Stroll Historic Roser Park! The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region, Part 9 by William Moriaty
Kiddie Matinee Memories – Part 2  by ED Tucker
VHS Grindhouse: "She-Gods of Shark Reef" (1958)  by Andy Lalino
Who Does What? by Corey Castellano
The Man Behind the Curtain at the Tampa Theatre by Paul Guzzo
Michael Phelps On Your Wheaties .... John Lynch Joins Patriots .... Rays Getting Stung .... Tampa Little League .... Tj Whosayourmama .... .... ....  by Chris Munger
This Week's Pcr .... Viva Las Vegas .... Sign #3 That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us .... I Spy .... Enjoy Your Time .... Passing On .... Wow! .... .... And The Oscar For 1980 Should Have Gone To...  by Mike Smith
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Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr. and Nick Nolte
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hour 47 mins

I have officially dubbed the past year in film “The Year of the Comedy.” Starting in 2007 with “Knocked Up,” “Superbad” and “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” and continuing this year with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Pineapple Express” and, now, “Tropic Thunder,” this past year hasn’t been so full of belly laughs since the 1970s heyday of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Blake Edwards.

“Tropic Thunder” tells the story of three very different actors. Tugg Speedman (Stiller) is an action star who has tried to branch out in recent years to more Academy Award friendly material. His last film, “Simple Jack,” where he played a mentally challenged boy, was blasted by the critics. Jeff Portnoy (Black) is a hard partying comedian best known for his multiple roles in “The Fatties” series of films. Kirk Lazarus (Downey, Jr.) is a renowned actor from Australia who boasts five Oscars on his mantle. They have all been cast in “Tropic Thunder,” which is based on the heroic exploits of Four Leaf Tayback (Nolte) during his tour of Vietnam. Now assembled deep in the jungle, the troupe of actors get themselves lost and soon come across the soldiers of a heroin king pin. Thinking the soldiers are part of the film, Tugg and company follow the script to hilarious results.

It’s not unusual for actors participating in war films to attend a special “boot camp” to get some feel for the characters they are playing. Actors from such films as “Platoon” to “Saving Private Ryan” have attested to the success of these camps, helping the actors gain a sense of comradery that comes across on film. In fact, for “Saving Private Ryan,” director Steven Spielberg had Matt Damon (who played Ryan) attend a separate camp, thereby keeping him separate from the group of soldiers that must protect him). Speaking of Spielberg, it was Ben Stiller's experiences while making the director’s “Empire of the Sun” that gave him the idea for “Tropic Thunder” and he has left no one unscathed in his vision.

Stiller the director has wisely cast a group of actors who can easily parody a more famous group of actors, Or, as Downey’s character remarks, “I know who I am! I'm the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude! Indeed he is. One of the funniest bits in the film is that Kirk Lazarus is such a dedicated actor that he underwent a controversial medical procedure to turn him into an African- American. Even in Hollywood where Robert DeNiro gained 50 pounds for “Raging Bull” and Tom Hanks lost 50 pounds for “CastAway,” changing your skin color is pretty impressive. Downey is so perfect here I can’t imagine another actor taking on the role. Stiller is excellent as an actor who wants respect for his work, no matter his limitations. In discussing his “Simple Jack” film with Lazarus, he’s told that he went the route of Sean Penn in “Sam I Am,” going “full retard” instead of holding back some. Penn didn’t win the Oscar that year, Lazarus explains, because he didn’t know where to draw back. Black is fine as Portnoy, though his character isn’t as drawn out as the other two leads. The film is full of some fine supporting turns as well, including Danny McBride as the films’ explosives expert, Steve Coogan as the director and cameos from such A-listers as Tobey Maguire and Matthew McConaughey (taking over from Owen Wilson after his mishap last year). But the best performance is given by Tom Cruise, who with a bald head and oversized glasses is the film’s comic highlight as the foul mouthed studio head who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. How good is Cruise? Oscar good. And even though the academy rarely recognizes comedy, my fingers are crossed that they remember Cruise come February.

Technically, the film is well done. Stiller the director has wisely hired two time Oscar winner John Toll (“Legends of the Fall,” “Braveheart”) to photograph it and his cameras bring out all of the lushness of the jungle in striking beauty.

I’m not sure if Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy or Russell Crowe will find this movie funny but I’m betting everyone else that goes to see it will find it hilarious. On a scale of zero to four stars I give “Tropic Thunder”

This week's movie review of "Tropic Thunder" is ©2008 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2008, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.