|INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review)|
by Dan Harris
(In Paperback from Amazon)
Let's just say that comedy stars like company, so when Ben Stiller writes (with actor Justin Theroux) and directs a VBP (Very Big Production) about a movie being made in a southeast Asian jungle that turns into a major skit about a blanks vs. bullets fantasy, he casts pals. Great choice. Robert Downey Jr. comes down to Stiller's level of sometimes funny whackiness (and steals the show) and Jack Black plumbs the depths to show how comfortable he is in the muck of humor.
This band takes it to such extremes that even a conservative librarian will laugh once in a while. The typical male sophomore will be in his comfort zone and will howl in all the right and wrong place. Of course, right and wrong are in the perception of the spectator, but Stiller makes sure we won't get mixed up about which is which. When this script goes politically incorrect it shoots off the scale. Prevailing taboos are just virginal territory for parody and humor.
Starting with a pseudo-realistic two-shot between a wounded (and possibly terminal) Tugg Speedman (Stiller) and his buddy Kirk Lazarus (Downey in black face and lower lip prosthetic) trying to keep his spirits up. The dialogue and situation, from countless war movies, goes bad and, pulling back, the movie set is revealed with pseudo director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) trying to pull a "performance" out of his lads in a war story based on the exploits of "Four Leaf Tayback," (Nick Nolte) a "hero" of Vietnam who returned with claws instead of hands.
Without a proper cue from the director, special effects wiz Cody (Danny R. McBride) sets off the climactic and spectacular explosion timed to arriving jet planes. Only the cameras weren't rolling. A video-enabled production meeting is called to explain the fiasco to producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise), a man who's pretty explosive himself, and not known for patience or respect for the written word.
The movie-mogul's idea of salvaging the problems and his investment is to re-stylize the shooting technique to something more like reality television. Hundreds, if not thousands of cameras are to be secretly installed in trees and other obscure jungle places to record our team by day and night as they try to find and rejoin their comrades. They're helicoptered to a clearing and dumped off, with Cockburn directing them on their "armed" mission. When he steps on a real land mine, however, he all but disappears in a fog of atomic particles. The squad is stunned but, despite finding his head in the bushes, arrives at the conclusion that it's one of the brilliant effects.
But, hilarious as it is, it wasn't movie magic, and neither are the really armed insurgents who are watching the strange antics of this squad of
enemies. Baffled at first by their apparent fearlessness, pretty soon bullets fly. Cody and Tayback are captured, and then Tugg, himself.
The comedy of errors and other silly ideas proceeds with much bonding and situational challenges and belly laughs, bringing them to a heroin operation run by rough characters lead by a boy. Addict Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is looking at nirvana while the rest of the team, realizing this is where their mates are imprisoned, attempt to stage a rescue.
Fine cinematography by John Toll heads the list of first class production values, with a huge cast of supporting players adding to the shenanigans. Behind-the-scenes departments read like a platoon breakdown, with makeup alone consisting of 27 artists, from John Blake, personal makeup artist for Downey to Yoichi Art Sakamoto on prosthetic dental appliances for Stiller and Downey. This was only exceeded by the size of the visual effects department. No expense was too much for this Stiller spectacular, and it shows.
Best of all, the team-up of these comedic geniuses turns the ridiculous into some serious paydirt. Downey, facing the kind of accusations of race-baiting not seen since the condemnation of Al Jolson in blackface during the 30's and 40's goes for it so completely, he turns in a face and voice alteration that force us to see him on a whole new plane of craftsmanship on the heels of his marvelous "Iron Man". Do we smell an Oscar nod?
Stiller's parody on big scale war movies as a means to launch a healthy dose of crudity and raunch--with the characters to go with it--is well aimed at audiences in tune with shock satire. Given that his boxoffice reliability means he can get a green light for anything he wants to do, Stiller may be patted on the back for his adventurousness in branching out his subjects and roles. Adults, while amused, might be less charitable in its praise of the extremes to which the jokester takes it.
~~ Jules Brenner