Luckily, the fate of the free world does not depend on movie stars.
With an all-star comedy cast and positive buzz about performances from Robert Downey Jr., and in a cameo, Tom Cruise, Tropic Thunder seems poised to be one of the summer’s big comedy hits (okay, in a season featuring super bomb The Love Guru and medium bomb Get Smart, that’s not a huge achievement, but nevertheless). But while its willingness to step over the line and push the raunch factor would seem to be its main appeal, will that also hurt it?
A New York Times article on Saturday points out that R-rated comedies haven’t done that well this summer–You Don’t Mess With Zohan, The Love Guru (which really drags down the curve) and Stepbrothers are all likely to finish under $100 million in domestic box office; in the case of the pricey $90 million budgeted Thunder that would be a disastrous.
Here are some reasons why Thunder (no, I have no particular reason for not nicknaming it Tropic) might have problems. First, like the abovementioned tepid-performing comedies, it’s targeted at a young male audience (I’m not saying women wouldn’t want to see it, we’re just talking in vast, movie biz generalities), but it’s a limited young male audience; while we all know that kids under 17 can get into R rated movies, it is a little bit of a barrier. Every 12 year old who wants to see it won’t be able to get in, so that immediately cuts down on a chunk of audiencee. Second, opening so close to the much cheaper, similar targeted Pineapple Express (Thunder opens a week after Pineapple’s August 6th bow) means that Thunder won’t get a “Finally! A comedy after all these big action pictures!” type of bounce. Another problem is that historically, movies about Hollywood and making movies tend to amuse their creators a lot more than general audiences. I think the big-time cast for this movie might be enough to get past that, but it is something to be considered.
Finally, the NYTimes article points out that while this movie’s whole point is to skewer a particular kind of tin-eared political correctness, it might have gone too far in at least one area (and that’s only one area). While the film is actually making fun of Hollywood’s longtime, saccharine use of mentally disabled characters as Oscar bait for shallow performers and directors, that still might be too much for people who are just going to hear a bunch of stars casually tossing around the “retard.” Some people might not be willing to go past that to see the satire, or might feel the comedy derived from it isn’t worth the damage it’s doing to the cause of better treatment for mentally disabled people.
So is it possible to go too far, even when going too far is the way to make a point? Is there a danger in people not getting the joke, but just seeing the meanness, and taking that as permission to behave the same way? Or are people too sensitive? Well, I guess we’ll know after the box office returns come in…