Monday, February 14, 2011

Lessons Armored could learn from Tropic Thunder

Saturday night The Beefcake and I made big plans to stay in and watch movies. We started with Armored, then moved on to Tropic Thunder, and finished things up with a little Die Hard.

And that is how I realized why Tropic Thunder is a much better movie than Armored.

But Emily, you may say, Tropic Thunder is an action movie parody film filled with silliness and Robert Downey Jr in blackface, while Armored is a serious contained thriller. How can you possibly compare two films that have nothing in common besides their complete lack of female characters? Well I shall tell you.

Tropic Thunder is supposed to be a silly movie while Armored is supposed to be this serious character piece, but that ridiculous parody film has way more heart.
I have not read the screenplay; this is based only on seeing the film.

Spoilers for both films to follow.

I now present to you Two Reasons why Tropic Thunder is a Better Film than Armored, by Emily Blake

1) All the actors have something to do.

In Armored, almost every line worth having went to Matt Dillon. A few of them went to Columbus Short who played the guard trapped in the truck, and every now and then they threw a bone to Milo Ventimiglia as he lay on the floor bleeding to death. Laurence Fishburne sneered, Skeet Urich whimpered, Amaury Nolasco tried to look Muslim, and Jean Reno did.... um.... stood around..... made faces? Is that what he did? You honestly could have removed his entire character from the story and it would have made no difference at all to the film. With the exception of Jean Reno, every character got a five minute scene to do some acting, I guess to make up for the fact that they spent the rest of the movie watching Matt Dillon talk. Why bother getting good actors if you're going to make them stand around and say nothing the whole movie?

Now let's look at Tropic Thunder. What's Jack Black's story? He's a heroin addict, and by the end of the film he has faced his addiction and attempted to conquer it. Brandon Jackson has to admit that under all that bravado was a gay man who likes to sew. Robert Downey Jr has to acknowledge that he's a white Australian man who may have to drop character in order to find himself. Ben Stiller has to stop worrying about whether or not he is an "actor" and do the job at hand. Each of these characters needs to admit the truth about the world they live in, and they all get an opportunity to explore that theme. Heck, even Danny McBryde's character gets to deal with the fact that his hero let him down. Everybody has something cool to do.

2) A character struggles with betrayal

Matt Dillon's character in Armored practically helped raise Columbus Short's character. He got him into the armored car business and considers himself a mentor to the kid because Short's dad mentored him back in the day. The film spends a lot of time making sure we know this through on-the-nose dialogue. But when the new guy locks himself in the armored car and refuses to go along with the con now that it's gone off the rails, it takes Dillon's character about three seconds to decide they should force him out and shoot him. There's absolutely no conflict there. Don't you think he would have tried to find another solution? Let's imagine it's Fishburne's character who wants to kill the kid. Dillon would be opposed to that, and they'd argue, so not only do we get more conflict but we give Fishburne something to do, which addresses problem number 1. And Skeet. Poor Skeet Ulrich. We've never even seen these two characters talk before, and all the sudden we're expected to believe that Skeet is going to go against Dillon the bully to save this new guy. It's conflict slapped onto a scene, not drawn out of the natural reactions of the characters.

And somehow in that final confrontation we get this meaningful look between two guys who used to be friends. Why? They stopped being friends a long time ago as soon as Matt Dillon decided he wasn't conflicted about murder. That deep look between men moment means nothing now.

So now let's look at Tropic Thunder. Matthew McConaughey's character, Peck, LOVES Ben Stiller's Tugg Speedman. Like, LOVE loves. We know this because he has a Scorcher VI poster HUGE on the wall behind him, and because when Tugg calls, his phone plays "Sometimes When We Touch." Now that ring tone is played for a laugh, but it's also very telling about the way Peck feels about his client. So when Tom Cruise offers him the opportunity to forget about Tugg in exchange for a jet. And for a second you don't know what he's going to do. The look on his face says he's considering betraying his friend. Then, when he decides to fight for Tugg, he does everything within his power to convince the studio mogul to change his mind. It creates great conflict, and again - it gives the character something cool to do other than watch one guy make decisions.

I've heard the screenplay for Armored was amazing, so I assume this is a result of an unfortunate trip through the production machine, but whatever the cause, it failed to engage me as much as Ben Stiller's comic masterpiece.


  1. I totally agree. Armored was as dry as the LA river. The story about the little brother was the most cliched addition ever.

    And we had ZERO time to get to know why Matt Dillon wants or NEEDS to rob the armored car.

    It's off and running without us. It's so forgettable I forgot most of it. And I saw it a few weeks ago.

    This is an excellent time to mention my dialog theory (Active vs. Reactive). When used it automatically places two characters in conflict through their personality differences (though I say banality as it was trivial for Hans to shoot Takagi).

    The right dialog gives action as I'm sure everyone's seen someone get punched out for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.

  2. I sent you an email, Emily ... in case it gets caught in your spam filter.

    I love Tropic Thunder, I really do. The interesting thing about it, other than the really hilarious promos at the beginning, is that the action piece that opens Tropic Thunder is done well and actually looks frigging exciting right up until things go wrong.

  3. Slightly off topic, but I think the comedy genre is the strongest of all genres right now. Sure, there's still a lot of shit comedies getting released but their have been some absolute classics over the last four or five years.

    I'd include Tropic Thunder on that list.


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