Get ready for “Tropic Thunder” one of the funniest films to come out of Hollywood in some time. Chocked full of unexpected twists, turns and characters, the film almost makes you forget a risky move made by the filmmakers. But in a film filled with risky moves, a white man playing a black character seems to be secondary. What potentially could be a somewhat controversial film is actually a laugh riot. Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man”) stars as a black man, and in the context of the film, he pulls it off. But first you have to understand what the film is about.
“Tropic Thunder” is an action comedy about a group of self-absorbed actors who set out to make the biggest film ever. Problem is their gigantic egos get in the way and the already drastically over budget film is spiraling out of control and threatens to shut down the movie. The film director along with the author of the book the film is based on, decide to take drastic measures and leads the cast deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia for “increased realism,” where they unfortunately encounter real bad guys, with guns that are poised to kill at the least provocation.
Ben Stiller (“Night at the Museum”) stars as pampered action superstar Tugg Speedman, whose star is growing a little dim, and he wants an Oscar and this role could help him attain it. Jack Black (“Kung Fu Panda”) is Jeff Portnoy a comedy actor looking to show the world that he’s more than a gross out actor who’s made farting an art. Brandon T. Jackson (“Roll Bounce”) is Alpa Chino, a hip-hop-star-turned-entrepreneur (Booty Sweat-energy drink) who wants to be taken seriously as an actor. And then there’s Robert Downey, Jr. who stars as Kirk Lazarus the Australian quintessential “method” actor who has won five Oscars and is always on the lookout for a new challenge. And what better challenge then to take on a role meant for a black actor. Lazarus even undertakes a risky operation to darken his pale skin, even tripping out his vocal chords. There you have it, pure mania.
Robert Downey Jr. although confident of his role in the movie is nevertheless concerned about public opinion. And Stiller who wrote the script some nine years ago said he felt the time was right, and he believed America is changing. Brandon T. Jackson’s character constantly reminds Downey’s character that he’s not black, especially when Downey’s character becomes an angry black man. There is no buffoonery, and his character is played straight down the middle with some truly funny moments.
Blacks have played white characters in “white-face” with little or no reaction from mainstream America. In ’96 Whoopie Goldberg took on the identity of a white man in “The Associate” in an effort to get ahead. And in 2004 the Wayan’s brothers played young white women in “White Chick’s.” However, it’s been taboo for whites to take on black characterizations, especially in comedies.
In 2007 Angelina Jolie starred as a black woman in the film “A Mighty Heart” the story of Mariane Pearl, the wife of Wall Street Journal Reporter Danny Pearl who was killed in the Middle East. Jolie played Pearl at Pearl’s request. The movie was not a box office biggie and it was a dramatic film.
For the most part white actors have steered away from performing in blackface since the 1950s.
“Tropic Thunder” is taking a risk, but once audiences view the film, it is believed that they will see the Downey character for what it is; an actor starring in a movie, about an actor who plays an actor of another race because the actor has issues…What? If you understand that, then you will get a kick out of this movie…everybody has issues.
“Tropic Thunder” is a very funny movie, filled with lots of surprises. If you feel like laughing a lot, see this movie. In theaters Friday.
– Gail Choice can be reached at email@example.com