“Tropic Thunder” – Susan Granger reviews

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Ben Stiller’s spoof of war movies is–without doubt–the summer’s funniest comedy.

Following the usual “Coming Attractions,” there are four bogus movie trailers, introducing washed-up action star Tugg Speedman (Stiller), grossed-out comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and the five-time Oscar-winning Aussie, Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.).

Along with newcomer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), they’ve been cast in a Vietnam War picture based on a “true” story by John “Four Leaf” Tayback (Nick Nolte), who serves as technical advisor. When filming bogs down and they’re reamed out by the venal studio boss, Lee Grossman (Tom Cruise), the desperate British director (Steve Coogan) decides to drop these pampered, self-indulgent celebrities deep in the jungle–without cellphones or assistants–hoping that hidden surveillance cameras will capture their terror, accentuated by a trigger-happy explosions expert (Danny McBride). But drug-dealing guerrillas are lurking nearby–and things go horribly wrong, much to the dismay of Speedman’s agent (Matthew McConaughey).

What’s hilarious are the smarmy characters. Downey’s absurdly serious Lazarus is so devoted to his craft that he darkens his skin pigment to play an African-American, which understandably riles Alpa Chino (say it aloud). Stiller’s Speedman skewers Sean Penn’s “I Am Sam” and Black’s Portnoy is a drug addict. Best of all, Cruise is almost unrecognizable as the bald, paunchy, power-crazed exec whose nasty cynicism is relieved only by his dance moves; it’s “Risky Business”-meets-“Magnolia.”

Written by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Coen, the acerbic script is not only politically incorrect but also relentlessly vulgar as it ridicules cinematic cliche. The only weak point is Stiller’s uneven direction, reminiscent of “Zoolander.” On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Tropic Thunder” is an audacious 8, sending up Hollywood egos.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.