'Tropic Thunder' is industrial-strength dreck

The title is "Tropic Thunder." Sounds like an industrial-strength sunscreen. It's not.

Instead, it's industrial- strength dreck. Imagine endless scenes cobbled together with the merest story line, a tale told for no purpose other than to showcase that Ben Stiller, who co-wrote and directed the film, seems happy to join the summer pantheon of those filmmakers who recently brought audiences the lowest common denominator movie, "Step Brothers."

Having little talent for coherent screenwriting, Stiller and company, gifted salespeople apparently, managed to con a studio out of $100 million to make this turkey, apparently convincing the producers that it was an eagle. Good grief. Or maybe they sold the movie as a hard-hitting parody, wrapped in satire. But then satire and parody are usually associated with subtlety, nuance and comedy. There is nothing comedic about this movie, though it's billed as "laugh out loud." And subtlety and nuance have been abandoned long ago for the explicit and crass. You could run dental floss in one ear and out the other of this movie.

What Stiller, et. al. did was make a film that parodied the film they were themselves making which makes them the very people they were poking fun at. Or something like that.

And if the film isn't dumb and dumber, they make fun of the mentally challenged and no one seems uncomfortable doing it.

Stiller portrays a Hollywood actor, famous for his string of vacuous, Rambo-like action films. His box office appeal now fading, he desperately stars in the ultimate Vietnam war movie. He had attempted to go art house by playing a mentally impaired character in what he hoped would be his Oscar role. Title: "Simple Jack." It tanked.

During one scene in "Thunder," Robert Downey, in black face, counsels Stiller that his mistake in "Simple Jack" was that he went "full retard. Never go full retard. You have to leave a little something. Like Forest Gump," he says. Retard lite.

To make the point, we see backstory scenes from Jack that create a stereotype of the worst kind. Stiller later reprises the role when he is captured by some drug runners in Vietnam's iron triangle.

Terrible stuff.

Appalling, really.

Though rated R, this drivel will seep out of the theaters and into home entertainment centers where youngsters can be ever more coarsened by trash-talking, trash-making, puerile, gratuitous, gross-out movies such as "Tropic Thunder." They should have stuck with "Tropic Thunder" as sunscreen.

At least there would have been beaches and blue water to look at.


What is interesting about "Mirrors" (Rated R) is not the film, which disappoints, but the genre. It could be argued that really fine, engaging, high-creep-factor movies are as hard to make as any trope in Hollywood. Think of them as thrillers with a healthy shot of the paranormal.

However, to raise the hair on the back of the neck, or make the audience squirm or jump, requires finding and sustaining what you might call the verisimilitude sweet spot.

That would be the spot that filmmakers and writers of horror exploit to the max, that spot in our psyches which considers, however briefly, that there just might be phenomena beyond the evidence. Things do go bump in the night. The existence of the horror sweet spot is why so many screenwriters have fashioned careers out of giving audiences a case of the heebie jeebies.

Does "Mirrors" accomplish this? It doesn't. Though it has a fine cast, and what could have been an interesting premise &

adapted from a successful Asian horror film &

the narrative soon falls apart resulting in a long (110 min), overwritten attempt to figure out who or what is behind the mirrors.

The setting is well chosen ""a large burned-out department store &

where Ben (Kiefer Sutherland) works as a night watchman (of course). One of the features of the grim, dark, cavernous store is its mirrors, hundreds of tall, expansive mirrors. Actually mirrors have been used to good effect in countless horror films before. Recall the classic shot of the actor looking in the mirror, then he or she walks away and the reflection remains, ominous, staring out. That can work, once or twice. But such moments usually imply that even spookier moments are on the way.

Doesn't happen in this movie.

Instead, "Mirrors" implodes in the second act and never recovers, turning into a confused mess in the end. But, as was mentioned before, making a really fine thriller-paranormal-creepy movie is a huge challenge. It all comes down to the story, matched by well-crafted special effects, and often even that recipe doesn't cut it.

Share This Story