Despite a smidgen of controversy, Tropic Thunder was finally released last week to mostly rave reviews and enough box office clout to usurp the cinematic phenom, The Dark Knight, which has been number one in America since Regan was president. I won’t delve too deeply into analyzing and review the film, mostly because it’s Friday and I’m struggling to find the energy to blink, but suffice it to say enough pee-pee escaped into my pants during fits of laughter for me to dub it the funniest movie of the year.
Yet, I ponder. Ben Stiller and company are arguing that the content of the film that some critics are finding offensive (racial issues, use of the word ‘retard’) are not done in poor taste, but done in an effort to lampoon the Hollywood machine that spawns soulless executives, yuppie agents, mindless films, and worst of all, method actors (shudder). If you believe that (and I do), then the film is infinitely awesometastic. However, if you believe that, then you also must believe that Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. and other notable Hollywood names associated with the film are essentially making fun of themselves and the culture that provides them the soapbox upon which they can preach. Everybody loves a little self-deprecation: Michael Bay has recently jumped on board to hilarious effect and Woody Allen has essentially made his entire career out of it. But, Michael Bay is too big of an asshole and will go back to swimming in pools full of money and blowing shit up and not really care what people think of him and Allen has, at best, only flirted with the mainstream, never really expressing any interest to be a part of it. Yet, Stiller and his supporting cast of A-listers are Hollywood mainstays with nothing to gain nor anything to prove with their lampooning. So what’s the point?
Typically, there are two types of people who make fun of Hollywood:
- The hardcore independents who view Hollywood as The Great Satan (David Lynch)
- People who are bitter because they will never make it in Hollywood (most filmmakers in NYC)
Ben Stiller falls into neither of those categories. Ben fits into the “you might remember me from such Hollywood films as Meet the Parents, Dodgeball, and Starsky and Hutch” category. He himself might not be an A-lister per se (maybe a B+ lister?) but his film features Robert “Iron Man“ Downey Jr. and Tom “I can’t think of anything witty enough referring to his mainstream iconography” Cruise. Poking fun of something that you also profit from is a bit like calling that tool from high school with a Mustang a douche bag, but continuously asking him for rides home anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not up in arms and calling Ben Stiller a hypocrite, nor do I think he makes bad films (all the time). I just wonder what the purpose of it all is. Is this film a mantra for Ben Stiller? Will it get the ball rolling on some type of wholesale changes for the vapid Hollywood industry? Probably. Oh crap, I meant to say no, no it won’t change a thing. Just because some A-listers made a movie that said “you guys are morons” won’t stop the release of Beverly Hills Chihuahua, it won’t hold up production on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and it won’t throw any wrenches in the gears on The Birds remake. If you believe Stiller is smart enough to realize this (which I do), then you can possibly deduce two methods behind the madness:
- Stiller is just going with the flow, writing a genuinely hilarious film, which Hollywood greenlights to show everyone else that “it’s still cool” by being able to poke fun of itself, or
- Stiller is smart enough to realize that Hollywood is a whore for money and he can use his leverage in the biz to get his film greenlight despite the fact it makes fun of Hollywood.
I tend to lean towards the latter option because A) Ben Stiller has been shown to poke fun of Hollywood before in venues outside of Tinsel Town and B) it allows me to believe there’s a deeper purpose for this film than just toting the “never go full retard” thing. Maybe he’s of the Billy Wilder mold – the guy who realizes the flaws in the system that makes him rich and uses it as a podium to say things that would otherwise go unsaid. With Wilder, you knew the guy couldn’t give two shits about Hollywood whether they employed him or not. Maybe that’s Stiller. Or maybe the joke’s on us and Stiller’s laughing all the way to the bank.