Sunday, November 30, 2008


If you're going to over-do it, I suppose you should over-do in bold, fat strokes -- which is what the makers of the two movies under consideration here -- both recently released to DVD -- have done. So let's give them credit for that, at least. Both films are satires: a genre usually best approached with a shiv than a sledge hammer. But sledge (sometimes sludge) it is, and so we must soldier on through the muck.

TROPIC THUNDER is Ben Stiller's nod to Hollywood film people: those in front of the camera, behind it, on the set and back at the studio. None come out smelling very good, but neither does the film itself, as it repeats and repeats and repeats, rather like a bad meal, and does so very noisily (also like a bad meal, now that I think of it). There are a number of laughs along the way: Steve Coogan (below, left) is delightful, as usual, while Jay Baruchel (below, right) provides a much-needed voice of sanity (under no circumstances should you miss Baruchel in the terrific indie I'm Reed Fish). The "previews" that begin the film are very clever and funny. You may find yourself, shamefacedly, looking forward to the film being "trailered" -- ouch: Stiller has even implicated us movie-goers in his little Valentine. Still, at 107 minutes, the movie is a quarter-hour too long, which tends to be draining on a comedy. And the explosions, blood and carnage keep piling up (while this may be part of Stiller's plan, repetition does lead to boredom).

Two performances have been much-vaunted in the press: one, of course, comes from Robert Downey Jr., and indeed he is good. The funniest parts of the film involve his faux-black character in conversation with another of his co-actors, an actual black. (The Blockbuster counter clerk who took back the film asked if I had watched the commentary track, adding that Downey does the entire track "in character." I'm sorry now that, with the time I had available, I didn't just skip the movie itself and watch the commentary instead). The other supposedly Isn't-this-amazing? role comes from one of our (perhaps "ex") superstars, whose name I will not mention in case there are readers unfamiliar with this "stunt" role and its performer. The actor has been given the make-up/make-over/fat suit routine, after which he acts the nasty studio boss with fists clenched and voice raging. His performance is perfectly OK. But during any one of his scenes, simply imagine what a real actor might have done with this role, relishing its moments and bringing some interesting specifics and a little variety to the table -- and you'll immediately understand what might have been.

As yet another Lloyd Kaufman/Michael Herz shoestring production, POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD offers quite a difference from the above movie -- perhaps a $75 million-dollar budget difference. If you're familiar with this duo's work (The Toxic Avenger and its ilk), you'll know what to expect. If not, Poultrygeist (great title, guys!) is as good a place to start as any. Be prepared for oodles of gore, lewd behavior, nudity (both real and manufactured), and also some wonderfully funny, nutty and charming dialog (as well as much that is extremely foul, no pun intended). There are musical numbers, too -- with some ace lyrics, so-so music and less than so-so choreography. (But come now, you don't frequent Troma Team productions for the dancing.)

Jason Yachanin makes a adorable hero Arbie, and the movie offers one of the funniest, most simple ploys I have yet seen to keep zombies at bay. Director, actor and co-writer/producer Kaufman proves a font of versatility here, even providing a lengthy introduction to his movie (which I swore I would not watch and then got hooked on). Kaufman is bizarre and funny, and so is his film -- which like Tropic Thunder, goes on maybe 15 minutes too long. Cut and re-edited, I think this one could have been a classic of the genre, instead of just a contender. But I suspect Lloyd (pictured above, smiling, as usual) is happy to be considered even that.

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