Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder

I caught Pineapple Express at the Alamo Drafthouse last week, and it was easily, easily the funniest movie I've seen this year, or even expected to see. And then I saw Tropic Thunder last night, and it was even funnier.

Both share a similar sensibility in that they're huge action movies (which get surprisingly, graphically violent at times) as well as wacky comedies. (They even share a couple of actors, Bill Hader and Danny R. McBride.) But Pineapple's humor is more character driven, while Tropic relies on absurdly over-the-top satire. I'd rather spend more time with Seth Rogen and James Franco's stoners than Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr.'s spoiled actors, on the basis of likability alone, but the latter definitely made me laugh more.

Pineapple is very likely the world's first stoner action movie, in which Rogen and Franco play potheads on the run from vicious drug lords and crooked cops. The comedy primarily stems from watching these unmotivated slackers get high off their asses and attempt to participate in the usual action movie shenanigans, such as car chases, fist fights, and gun battles. And all of that is funny because of the wonderful character interactions between Rogen and Franco, as in the middle of all this danger they grow from merely a user and his dealer to best friends. It's hysterical to see Franco accidentally get his foot caught in the windshield in the middle of a car chase, but it's equally as hysterical to watch Franco tell Rogen, as they laze around his apartment, that the weed he is selling is so beautiful, smoking it is like killing a unicorn. It's a treat to watch these misfits awkwardly bond while their lives are very much in jeopardy.

The comedy is top-notch, with great support work from the always awesome Gary Cole as a drug kingpin, Rosie Perez as a cop on his payroll, Ed Begley, Jr. as an overprotective father, and Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson as bumbling assassins. And the action, for the most part, also satisfies. There are moments that betray that this is a first action effort from both the writers and the director, but they are few and easily overlooked.

Both the action and the comedy are top-notch in Tropic Thunder, which I have to admit surprised me. I didn't think Ben Stiller (co-writer, director, star) had it in him. It's been a long time since Stiller has been so entertaining as a performer, so long I had pretty much given up on him as forever reprising his role as the stumbly romantic comedy lead to which horribly embarrassing things routinely occur (even though, looking at IMDb, he really doesn't play that kind of role nearly as often as it seemed to me; it's just that, when he does, I really, really hate him). And as a director, nothing he's done before led me to believe he could helm the kind of film I saw last night, packed with gigantic set pieces which are as hilarious as they are exciting. Very impressive.

Tropic is about a film crew attempting to make the biggest Vietnam war film ever which unluckily crosses paths with real, gun-toting drug lords in the jungle (again with the drug lords!). Most of the comedy comes from the characters thrust into this situation, who are a little too broadly satirical to come across as realistic, identifiable people, such as those found in Pineapple, but who are nevertheless gut-bustingly funny. Stiller and Jack Black are both great as the action star and the gross-out comedian, respectively, searching for validation in this war epic, but it's Downey who completely dominates this film. His turn as a white man playing a black man could've come across as offensive, but the film and Downey make it so clear that it's all about poking fun at method actors rather than a cheap racial gag that I don't see how anyone could be genuinely offended. Downey is deeply, endlessly funny here, as committed to the role as his character is committed to his role. He steals the movie.

And he's not the only thief. There's one brilliant piece of casting that I feel I should preface with a SPOILER ALERT, even though it seems like the secret is fairly widespread by now. Ready? Here we go: Tom Cruise. He is absolutely tremendous as the foul-mouthed, belligerent, screamingly insane studio head who somehow winds up in charge of negotiating with the film crew's captors. He goes to such hilarious extremes, and had me in such stitches, that I have to say, I'm going to give Cruise a pass on his Scientology nuttiness for his next two films. Free pass, you crazy bastard!

The film as a whole is a fantastic satire on practically every aspect of moviemaking -- agents, writers, actors, directors, nobody is spared. And it's packed with homages to/mockery of a vast array of films, from Platoon to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to The Party to Apocalypse Now to Forrest Gump... and on and on. Even the soundtrack is pointed, packed with every cliched rock song overused as a cue for Vietnam films (Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," CCR's "Run Through the Jungle").

Both these films are fantastically clever, funny, thrilling entertainment. What a great double feature these two movies will make on DVD some day.

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