Every once in a while, a movie comes along that...how shall I explain it? I think I will paraphrase a review of the Math Teacher/Pianist/Comedian Tom Lehrer to explain. One review commented that Me. Lehrer's muse was unfettered by such concerns as taste. As a result, Mr. Lehrer's work reveled in its ability to be biting and horrible, while pointing something out to us that was very important. His song "National Brotherhood Week" pointed out that everyone hates another group of people, but during National Brotherhood Week, suddenly everyone loves everyone else. Basically, it's a similar sentiment to that expressed in the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" from Avenue Q. Both songs essentially mock Political Correctness in the different forms they possessed during their respective eras.
Thankfully, it would appear that Ben Stiller's muse is unfettered by such concerns as Political Correctness. And, as a result, he has given us a movie that could not have been made anyone concerned with offending anyone else. If it wasn't so over-the-top, it wouldn't be so funny. The good news is, everyone pretty much takes the hit...white people, black people, Asians, homosexuals, fat people...really, no one is exempt from mockery.
The story is fairly straight-forward in its own way. A group of actors are in Vietnam, making a Vietnam War movie. Their direction is having trouble controlling them, so he takes them into the jungle to try and make a sort of Blair Witch Project version of the film. Things quickly spiral out of control, and the stars run afoul of a drug-smuggling operation, which they mistake at first for part of the movie, while the drug-smugglers mistake them for DEA operatives. Wacky hijinks ensue, as it were.
Ben Stiller is very enjoyable as Tugg Speedman, an action hero movie star who has made a series of flops and who has trouble emoting anything but bad-assery on film. Jack Black is Jeff Portnoy, an overweight, drug-addicted comedian who echoes every comic actor from John Belushi to Mike Myers. I've never seen Brandon T. Jackson before, but his turn as Alpa Chino, who markets a power-drink called Booty Sweat and sews his own clothing designs, is pretty entertaining. And his character has a secret. Shhhh. ;)
There are solid performances from Steve Coogan, as the film's director, and Jay Baruchel as Kevin Sandusky, the movie's straight-man. There are amazing performances by Nick Nolte as Four Leaf Tayback, who wrote the book the movie is based on, and Dempsey Silva, as the foul-mouthed and seemingly insane special effects supervisor.
By far, the best performance in the film is Robert Downey Jr. as Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus, who has undergone a controversial skin pigmentation process to play a black man in the film. His inability to fall out of character and his identity crisis give the film a hell of a lot of momentum. This has been a very good year for Downey.
If you're easily offended, don't see this film, if you think you might want to watch Ben Stiller getting repeatedly stabbed in the neck by a small Asian child, see this film. ;)
- The Happy Bear