DVD reviews: Tropic Thunder | Somers Town
Tropic Thunder (Dreamworks, £19.56) Somers Town (Optimum, £19.56)
FOR A FILM THAT PROMISED comedy manna from heaven, there's something disappointing about Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller's big-budget Hollywood satire about a group of prima donna movie stars who find themselves caught up in a real war situation while making the titular combat epic. Though it does boast a couple of moments of comedic brilliance, it's also a bit self-indulgent, which has resulted in a lot of targets being missed.
Let's start with the good, though, because now that we're knee-deep in awards season, it's the perfect time to laugh at the ridiculous lengths movie stars are prepared to go to in order to get a little critical credibility. It's Stiller's fading action star Tugg Speedman who scores the initial laughs in this instance as we see his disastrous attempt to broaden his range by playing a mentally challenged farm boy in a film called "Happy Jack".
In fact it's so spot-on offensive that Sean Penn, Cuba Gooding Jr, Robin Williams, Sigourney Weaver, Harrison Ford and every other actor who has ever tried to follow Dustin Hoffman and Daniel Day Lewis's Oscar successes by playing simple should feel their cheeks burning with shame. Thanks to Robert Downey Jr's turn as method actor Kirk Lazarus and his hilarious deconstruction of why Tugg's performance backfired – "never go full retard" – we will hopefully never see its like again on screen.
And speaking of Downey Jr, he's reason number two why Tropic Thunder is worth some of your time. In what could have been a misfire as ghastly as "Happy Jack", his performance as Lazarus, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Australian actor who has had his skin pigment surgically darkened to play an Afro-American grunt in the US army, manages to avoid any charges of minstrelism courtesy of his and Stiller's smart decision to contextualise it with layers of irony. Instead it exposes both the hubristic nature of modern actors and the way Hollywood has a tendency to marginalise minorities rather than giving them major parts (it's something the film reinforces by casting Brandon T Jackson as a black rapper-turned-actor whose presence in the film repeatedly points out how crude and offensive Lazarus really is).
This riff on method madness is as funny and as savage as comedy gets, so it's too bad that elsewhere the film sags. The Vietnam war movie parody the film is built around is 20 years out of date; Stiller quickly drops the pretence that this group of bozos (which also includes Jack Black as a puerile comedy star and – briefly – Steve Coogan as their in-too-deep British director) are so insular that they don't realise how much trouble they're in. And, predictably, Tom Cruise's latex-caked turn as a chubby, bald and venal studio executive is a bit too scarily try-hard to actually be consistently amusing. The biggest problem, though, is that much of this has been parodied to death already – take your pick from The Player, Team America, Extras or Entourage – so it almost feels like a parody of a parody, which is fairly pointless.
Also just out is Somers Town. The latest from Shane Meadows, it stars This is England's Thomas Turgoose as a young Nottingham lad who runs away to London, where he finds friendship in the form of a Polish migr (Piotr Jagiello), living with his dad in a housing estate in the shadow of St Pancras station.
With impressive economy, Meadows gives us a clear sense of who these boys are and what their environment means to them, and he develops their friendship in lovely and surprising ways, with both falling for a waitress in their local caf. It's sweet, witty and compassionate stuff.
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