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Funniest film of 2008: TROPIC THUNDER

Ben Stiller knocks one out of the park with his send up of Hollywood war movies

I haven't laughed as hard at a film as I did at Ben Stiller's killer new comedy TROPIC THUNGER in a long, long time. I caught a matinee at the gorgeous Orinda Theater the other day and laughed for two hours straight. That's great, of course, for a comedy, but Tropic Thunder surprised me as something more than just plain funny. The film, a satire of war epic movies and Hollywood egos, feels fresh the way the disaster spoof Airplane! did when it came out in 1980—a new kind comedy subgenre that unfolds right in front of you.

The gist of the film is that a cast of pretentious actors and filmmakers are on loation in Asia (actually Kauai) filming an Apocalypse Now/Platoon type for Vietnam war film. Anyone who has seen the brilliant documentary Hearts of Darkenss, abouyt the making of Apocalypse Now, will appreciate the art imitating life factor. Inside Hollywood comedies like The Player and Get Shorty are also siblings. But wht's really impressive is that Stiller manages to create a pretty spectacular action film amidst all the wink-wink nudge-nudge comedy. He's also collected a brilliant cast of well-known, and lesser known comics. Danny McBride, also funny in the Pineapple Express and the Foot Fist Way earlier this summer, holds his own with Nick Nolte, SNL's Bill Hader dances around Tom Cruise, etc.

There's been a lot of press about the film's laughs at the expense of mentally handicapped people, and the controversy is understandable. But Tropic Thunder swings its satiric axe at so many taboos that I have to give it a pass for its ambition. In truth, I found the mentally handicapped jokes to be a weaker link than Thunder's knockout blows: Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as a Russell Crowe-esque thespian so devoted to method acting that he pulls a Black Like Me, dying his skin pigmentation and never breaking character, Tom Cruise's cameo as an unbelievably foul-mouthed movie producer, and Jack Black's heroin withdrawling gross-out comic. All—especially Downey Jr.—are highwire comic performances of the highest order.

Just a warning for anyone who is easily offended. There's no doubt that you'll find something offensive about this movie. Just off the top of my head, the language is vulgar, the violence is extreme, there's scatalogical humor, racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes throughout the film. But they're so clever and, dare I say, appropriate for the subject matter, that  the film just works. Hats off to writer-director-star Stiller for turning it up to 11 and making an instant classic.