13 June 2021 – Looking back at Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball and Zoolander

There’s a lot of conversations about how comedy has changed . Lots of talk about how cancel culture and political correctness make making comedy impossible. Todd Phillips spoke about it when he was making “Joker”. Graham Linehan has talked about it recently about “Father Ted” having some episodes labelled with racism warnings by Channel 4. Times change and trends in humour change. These people like to talk about how they couldn’t make various things now and maybe they’re right, but if they want to be involved in comedy they need to keep up with the times. And maybe they shouldn’t be trying to make the same kind of comedy twenty years later.

I think we’ve all accepted that lots of films from before 2000 are politically incorrect but they can have a place in culture when we accept that these things aren’t ok. It’s the same caveat that we apply to classic literature like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. For films made since the millennium, it’s a little trickier, because lots of the makers of these films are still around making films and it’s difficult for some people to admit they did problematic shit and made money off the back of it. At the same time, when we revaluate these films, it’s worth considering that some of them have aged terribly and just aren’t funny anymore, irrespective of being un-PC.

This week I watched some of the comedies that I really enjoyed in my teenage years based around the “Frat Pack” of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, etc. I watched some of my favourites to see if they actually stand the test of time and to see how politically incorrect they were. This will probably be a topic I’ll return to and I’ll try and put together a graphic of good/bad, funny/lame as time goes on. I’m going to discuss them in the order I’ve watched them recently.

Tropic Thunder (2008)

“Tropic Thunder” is towards the end of the period where I felt like the Ben Stiller was funny. He was making sequels to “Meet The Parents” that nobody asked for. “Tropic Thunder” is one of the main films that people say couldn’t be made anymore and maybe they’re right. It has blackface and extensive use of the R-word. The blackface is at the expense of actors rather than at the expense of black people so there’s an argument for its inclusion, but I understand that it’s offensive so I feel that people have a right to avoid it based on that. Amazon Prime had a censor label to say that the film contains blackface when I watched it which I think is appropriate. The whole Simple Jack bit has continued aging badly and I don’t think it works.

Overall, a lot of “Tropic Thunder” is still funny. Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey are good. There were plenty of laughs and they’re mostly at the expense of actors which is always a decent move. Jack Black’s character’s fake trailer before the film was one of my favourite parts. It advertises a film were Jack Black’s character plays all characters and the whole film is based around farting. It’s such a gross idea for a film that would seem unbelievable if we hadn’t all seen Eddie Murphy make those kinds of films for years.

Is it still funny? Mostly very funny, but occasionally not

Could they make it today? They probably could try but I don’t think anyone would try to make it as it was. I don’t think the problematic parts would get the same laughs that they did.

Dodgeball (2004)

“Dodgeball” was always one of my favourites but it hasn’t aged particularly well. Vince Vaughn is pretty lame and I felt like Ben Stiller carried the film for lots of it. It’s making fun of super gyms and that whole superficial culture but it still makes jokes at the expense of a teenage girl with hairy arms among others. It’s not necessarily politically incorrect so much as just unpleasant.

Ben Stiller as White Goodman is a masterpiece. The clothes and hair are top notch. The scene where he’s stuffing pizza down his trousers is magical. I also love Jason Bateman as the co-commentator Pepper Brooks. The wrench throwing and traffic dodging is still funny. Overall though the story is kinda weak and it doesn’t live up to the memories.

Is it still funny? In parts hilarious, in others, unpleasant

Could they make it today? I don’t think it would work today. The story isn’t good enough and Vince Vaughn isn’t a good enough lead. I don’t think the issue is political incorrectness, more using people as the butt of jokes in a mean way.

Zoolander (2001)

I was a little surprised, but “Zoolander” actually stands up the best of the three films I watched this week. In terms of political correctness, it’s not the worst. I’m not sure about the conversation about bulimia, that wasn’t great. In terms of comedy, it’s still very funny. There are a lot of great scenes – the gasoline fight, Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander returning to his roots in the mine and Will Ferrell as Mugatu is a work of art. I love when Jerry Stiller is in Ben Stiller movies and he’s great in this as Maury Ballstein. The cameos are fantastic. Some are very obvious like David Bowie and Billy Zane, but my favourite is Justin Theroux as the evil DJ.

Is it still funny? Yes. Absolutely.

Could they make it today? Yes and that’s part of the problem. They tried to make it again and it’s meant to be terrible. I haven’t watched the sequel because I don’t want to be sad.

13 June 2021 – Looking back at Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball and Zoolander

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