* 1/2(out of four)
Here is a geopolitical thriller that is so ham-fisted, so glaringly obvious in every way, that it would be impossible to pinpoint why it's so bad without divulging - or at least hinting at - some important plot developments. I would hardly classify them as spoilers, as there's hardly anything to spoil, and anyone who has seen their share of spy thrillers will be able to anticipate every "twist and turn" well before they're revealed.
While the film is certainly provocative and by no means an early financial failure, it is most definitely not the easily accessible summer cash cow that many were expecting or hoping for. As written and directed by star Ben Stiller, this longtime passion project is full of enough subtle gags and avant-garde humor and to turn off audiences looking for a more traditional time at the movies. For the more adventurous, though, "Tropic Thunder" represents an engaging, consistently funny, often puzzling summer movie experiment.
It's a stoner comedy that also works as a buddy-action flick and a quirky character drama, and the film does so without ever sprawling completely out of control and degrading into an incoherent mess. In lesser hands, the movie could have been a disaster. But with a strong screenplay by star Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the team behind the equally sharp "Superbad"), the film successfully juggles several genres and delivers quality entertainment targeted at audiences looking for something out of the ordinary.
"The Dark Night"
Heath Ledger, whose death ensured that "The Dark Knight" would be viewed not just as an "event" movie, but as the swan song of an enormously talented actor who was always the best part of whatever film he was in. However, even if he had not died, I believe Ledger's turn as the Joker would still be hailed as an unparalleled achievement. (As much as it pains me to say it, he makes Jack Nicholson's performance in Tim Burton's original "Batman" look like a bad joke by comparison.) He threw himself into this role with reckless abandon, and through that passion created an iconic character who will be forever cited as one of cinema's greatest villains.
Movies are reviewed by News-Sentinel movie reviewer Jason Wallis every Saturday.