Tropic Thunder Courtesy Paramount Pictures, Pineapple Express Courtesy Sony Pictures
Dudes of the world, unite! Separated by a week at multiplex birth, wannabe arthouse auteur turned Apatow puppet David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express and occasionally spot-on parodist Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder prove the collegiate (and post-) white male hath asked and received — not one but two action movie satires featuring a who’s who of comic dude icons (Stiller, Jack Black, Seth Rogen) blowing stuff up, imitating black guys and yelling “Dude!” to the point of psychosis. Yes, the unsurprisingly similar films (they also share a couple of supporting actors, faceless gangs of Asian drug lords and a virtual void of female roles) make for a telling pair of white guy fantasies — though one too frequently misunderstands its genre and renders the fantasy an incoherent muddle, while the other’s self-deprecating humor has the fantasy itself become the butt of the joke.
The closest thing to an indie hack, Green shows with Pineapple that he might be best when putting aside the “personal” touches of his milquetoast Malick mimicry for paint-by-numbers stoner comedy, which is basically just stupid comedy with drugs. He still couldn’t find the natural rhythm of a conversation if his life depended on it, which for stoner humor is a real drag, especially when coupled with slacker Rogen’s already grating delivery. But the dialogue (by Rogen and Evan Goldberg) is fine enough — “We can go watch some crazy things on the internet and shit!” exclaims eternally toasted dealer James Franco when trying to bond with his client — to carry the film through. Until, that is, weed takes a backseat and Pineapple devolves into a shoot-‘em-up whose slapstick comes off instead as bad vibes butchery, as lines like “Bros before hos” are imparted in painful earnest. Compared to the live-and-let-live pot parties of Up in Smoke and Half Baked, Pineapple shrilly harshes its own mellow.
Tropic, on the other hand, lampoons genre by way of lampooning Hollywood vanity, and vice versa. Stiller plays a more grounded version of his Zoolander character: Tugg Speedman, a spoiled, pompous action star whose recent “serious” work (including Simple Jack, a hilarious riff on the I Am Sams of the world) lands him in the jungle on the troubled set of a Vietnam War award-humper. Stiller’s (and co-writers Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen’s) sights are aimed not so much on war movie clichés (Apocalypse Now, Platoon and The Deer Hunter are all inevitably namechecked) but rather on how those clichés serve as catnip for self-obsessed poseurs wishing to display their thespian greatness. Unfortunately, Tropic never quite sustains the brilliance of its opening, in which Speedman and his equally phony compatriots are introduced via their own commercials and movie trailers, then shown hamming it up for the ‘Nam blockbuster. In not-so-original fashion — i.e., the movie becomes real — Tropic toys with ideas of the film industry blurring the line between artifice and reality, and while many recurring gags subversively hit (Robert Downey Jr. as an Aussie Method actor who undergoes a skin pigmentation blackface procedure to play an African-American), its obsession with Tinseltown inside baseball (most notably, Tom Cruise’s cameo as a Jewish power-producer getting down to T-Pain) is just as narcissistic as the actors it spoofs. And as an aside: here, as with Pineapple, white men listening and/or dancing to rap just isn’t funny anymore. Sorry, dudes.
Pineapple Express opens August 6; Tropic Thunder opens August 13.