Soundtrack: Tropic Thunder

Originally Published at Blogcritics:

A veritable "Ball of Confusion" to "Run Through The Jungle”-- hilarity is this soundtrack’s “Name Of The Game.”

Propelled by one of the strongest movie marketing campaigns of the summer from offering up fake documentary clips online to echo the film’s Apocalypse Now roots, becoming the subject of a mock E! True Hollywood Story, and producing enough posters and ads to fill a football field, as a film critic I’ve been bombarded by Tropic Thunder imagery for months.

There’s a risk when the Hollywood hype machine goes into overdrive that by the time the film comes out, it’ll have annoyed audiences so much that they won’t spend their hard earned money on tickets since they felt they’d seen it already (i.e. Adam Sandler’s Click) but there's also a flip-side. This was evidenced in 2008's best case scenario, specifically the smash success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, that by billing itself the “event” movie of the summer, Knight's marketers actualized that self-fulfilling prophecy in ways nobody predicted with records broken by the minute.

castWhile it will no doubt pale in comparison to Knight, Tropic Thunder arrives in theatres at a time when audiences who were inundated with comic book movies and action heroes from Iron Man to Indiana Jones sorely need a comedy. Yet cleverly, unlike Step Brothers which billed itself as straight comedy and Pineapple Express which startled audiences by its emphasis on action, Tropic Thunder hasn’t been bashful about what it wants to be — namely the ultimate action comedy of the summer. Using the war film paradigm, Stiller combines it with his favorite subject of the out-of-touch, egomaniacal industry in which he works to tell the story of spoiled actors starring in a Vietnam movie who find themselves the targets of a real battle. For Thunder, Stiller lampoons Hollywood and stereotypical action films in one fell swoop and while I felt the results were mixed, when it works — just like war is hell -- the film is as funny as hell.

However, just as clever as their marketing campaign has been, Tropic Thunder goes one better by serving up an Original Motion Picture Soundtrack that not only builds up anticipation for the film but revels in its off-the-wall humor as just looking over the track titles alone will send CD listeners into giggles.

Opening the album with "The Name Of The Game" (The Crystal Method's "Big A** T.T. Mix) — which you can hear for Windows, QuickTime, and Real Audio — the track blends some of the most hilariously unspeakable yet quotable lines the cast delivered from the film with a head-bobbing beat, not only sets you up for the film but the rest of the disc’s eclectic offerings as well.

Serving up everything from typical war fare, including protest songs of the 60’s to a hip toe-tapping techno driven piece by Ben Gidsjoy called “Ready Set Go,” the album further deviates from standard fare with bizarre inclusions such as a power ballad, a New Age track by Enigma, classic MC Hammer, the theme song from The Jeffersons and the commercial jingle for his fictitious Booty Sweat soft drink line called “I Love Tha P***y,” by cast member Brandon T. Jackson.

As crazy as it sounds, as cast member Robert Downey Jr.’s Kirk Lazarus would say, "Crazy's better than nothin'," and the soundtrack manages to capture the spirit of the freewheeling film. While we’ve all heard Edwin Starr’s "War" and the music of Credence Clearwater Revival played in countless war films, “Run Through The Jungle” still sounds as great as it ever did and I defy anyone to listen without turning up the volume. In the same spirit of the era, by choosing the great protest themed “Ball of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today),” which is one of the funkier tracks by The Temptations helps reintroduce the group to audiences who best remember them from their sweeter and far more overplayed hits like “My Girl.”

And while I admittedly did giggle the first three times I played Mc Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” on the fourth listen I was ashamed that not only was I on play-count number four but also that I do remember each and every word from that song when it was initially released. And what's more, I’ll even be brave enough to say it’s aged particularly well and still manages to hook listeners in.

helicopterSeveral of tracks play much better after you see the film and realize the way the filmmakers managed to work in the song cues such as the aforementioned Jackson “P***y” track which plays over a fake ad preceding the film as well as Enigma’s “Sadness, Pt. 1” which heightens laughs during a Brokeback Mountain meets The Thorn Birds mock movie trailer starring Downey’s character and actor Tobey Maguire. And while the pop-culture images evoked by some of the works including Ja’net Dubois’ “Movin’ On Up,” best known as the theme song to The Jeffersons seems especially out of place, it’s cited in one of many hilarious confrontations between Downey and Jackson and ditto for Steppenwolf’s Easy Rider featured “The Pusher” which subtly underscores the drug withdrawal of junkie actor Jack Black in a series of escalating scenes.

Oddly most of these tracks, like Dan Hill’s power ballad “Sometimes When We Touch,” that serves as a particularly funny ringtone of a supporting character, are barely used in the film. Yet they all make terrific soundtrack fodder, proving more consistently humorous than the film itself. Moreover, it’s a rare but admirable feat when a potential CD buyer and ticket holder are already sent into hysterics not by footage from a trailer but from an especially offbeat soundtrack.

Of course, it helps infinitely when one of the album producers working behind the scenes is the film’s co-writer, director and star Ben Stiller, who knows a thing or two about how to make an audience laugh. And while, given some of the language in the opening and closing tracks — much like the film — the soundtrack is probably best rated R, Stiller definitely serves his purpose in whetting our appetite, engaging our curiosity, and above all, cracking us up as we prepare for some Tropic Thunder.