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August 20, 2008
RATING: 8/10
I read a story once about this guy who was lost in the woods for some weeks and eventually found some old crone who gave him what he thought was the most delicious dish in the world but later turned out to be something akin to Dirt Soup. Anyway, the moral of the story was that when we are truly starved for something, any sample of it - even of the poorest quality - will taste like the food of the gods.

This weekend I embarked on a really ill-fated rat king of a trip. In fact, as I write this, I am still on it. Now it's just my old nemesis, JFK Airport, between me and my home, my cats, and my allergy medicine,* but two days ago I had what seemed like an endless succession of effed-up plans still ahead of me. Yesterday, I ended up in Boston with my excellent friend from Chicago, who had run into her own personalized set of travel disasters, and to console ourselves we limply, exhaustedly staggered over to a movie theater, ready to sit for a few mindless hours in the A/C and take whatever Ben Stiller cared to deliver.

Also, I ask you to remember that I was still smarting from last week's utter Judd Apatow disappointment, and although the cold, dark lump that until this weekend had once been my heart still had enough life left inside of it to muster up some tremors at the thought of a Robert Downey, Jr. performance, I wasn't expecting to be mightily impressed.



But you know what? Screw it all. I don't need any excuses. I laughed more during the first five minutes of Tropic Thunder than I have laughed during all of the movies I've seen this summer combined. Except for a few parts that spent too long delving into male bonding territory (zzzzzz),** Stiller's much-hyped film was just what I needed to get back on my feet.

You've seen the ads - Tropic Thunder is about the egos, insecurity, coddling, stupidity, self-obsession, and ass-kissing that drives and consumes the commercial filmmaking industry. So we are led to believe, anyway, because theoretically, the makers of this film (Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux aka John Hancock) (yow!) are also products of said industry, yet they seem pretty self-aware. Most interestingly, the ultimate poster boy for the borderline crazy, image-obsessed actor is part of Tropic Thunder's cast (you probably already know who it is, but I won't spoil it for you if you don't).



If this were a political campaign, the polling numbers for these guys (and they are ALL guys, which certainly indicates SOMEthing about the industry, whether or not that's intentional) would be going way up. It's funny how people can absolve themselves of their past tendencies to be ridiculous, so long as they own up to how ridiculous they have been. And holy crap! Nothing is more hysterical to me than the idea of, say, Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, or Colin Farrell (oh man, especially Colin Farrell) whining about TiVo while dodging bullets.

That's the premise of Tropic Thunder, by the way - the action star, the comic buffoon, the respected actor, the hip-hop star turned actor, and the newbie… all lost in a hostile jungle, unsure if they're still making a movie about 'Nam or just lost in a hostile jungle. Anything else I tell you will ruin the magic (don't read any other reviews before you go, dude, they seem to be 95% plot summary and give away many of the surprising details - Roger, I'm disappointed), but I will say that more than once during the film I wondered how much my beloved Zoolander might have been improved with the addition of Downey, Jr. The tone of Tropic Thunder is less silly than that film, the characters more believable (it's easier to recognize spoofed figures from Hollywood than from the male modeling industry), the acting better, the script smarter, and the lack of tired old Owen Wilson a blessing.



Now go see it before you hear too much about it and lose interest. To reap the maximum benefit, try to throw some missed flights, lost hotel reservations, awkward social situations, and/or sleep deprivation into the mix. Or just see Pineapple Express [LAS feature] directly beforehand, and you should be good. In fact, I'm starting to believe that this movie has turned my luck around. Everything's been coming up Howson since I left that theater. My flight is actually boarding,*** I've finally been able to track down a Diet Coke, and some cute kid near me keeps shouting "THANK YOU!" over and over again. If I weren't tired and covered in bug bites (long story), I'd be doing the same thing. Thanks, Ben Stiller. You've really made my week, which was no small feat.

TRAILER: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pxOzSpUXtg
---

*In fact, as I write this, I'm hunched on the floor near the gate, jealously guarding the one electrical socket I could find, and there is an older, maybe intoxicated lady who just walked up to where I am sitting on the floor and is just standing here, swaying dangerously in platform flip-flops while I cringe in anticipation of the crash.

**OMG! The woman is back! I just looked up for a second and saw the flip-flops come to a screeching, swaying halt in front of me. Then they turned around suddenly and lurched off to a nearby chair. Maybe she wants my power outlet?? OR MY SOUL?

***Drunk lady (it's 11am, by the way) just got on a flight to Baltimore. Ahem.

SEE ALSO: www.tropicthunder.com

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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