Usually, it's critics who try to warn people off movies, but in the case of the upcoming comedy, "Tropic Thunder," a coalition of disability groups is expected to call for a boycott.
Here's the scoop: The New York Times Monday reported that a coalition of groups representing the disabled was expected to ask audiences to avoid "Tropic Thunder," the Ben Stiller-directed comedy that's being released Wednesday and which received an early rave from David Ansen in Newsweek. "The funniest movie of summer," wrote Ansen.
The movie's main story line focuses on a group of actors who are making a kick-ass Vietnam War movie. Stiller appears as Speedman, an action star whose career may be foundering. In an effort, to branch out, Speedman previously appeared in a sappy and badly received drama called Simple Jack. He played a mentally challenged young man, who looks a bit like Mad Mgazine's Alfred E. Newman.
According to the Times, several groups objected to use the word "retard" in reference to Simple Jack. The movie's defenders say that "Tropic Thunder" is making fun of the ludicrous ambitions of actors, not of the disabled.
According to Defamer , the releasing studio -- DreamWorks-- pulled its mock Web site for Simple Jack, although it hasn't altered the movie. The joke site had been part of the studio's "complex interweaving of 'Tropic Thunder' tie-ins," wrote Defamer. The movie evidently was making an in-joke, lambasting actors who have played mentally challenged people in attempts to ingratiate themselves with audiences and with organizations that dispense year-end awards.
I guess it's fair to say that filmmakers who make comedies always run the risk of crossing a line that will offend someone, but when people who are offended voice their opinions, why not take a second look? The Times, for example, quoted David C. Tolleson, executive director of the National Down Syndrome Congress, as saying that he felt as if he'd been assaulted. (I felt a bit assaulted by Stiller's comedy, too, though probably not for the same reasons as Tolleson. More on that when I review the movie.)
Is this a non-issue? Some would say, yes. "Tropic Thunder" is satire and lots of folks are skewered by Stiller, who includes a fair measure of rude, crude humor. But if you've got a child who's mentally challenged or have spent the better part of your professional life trying to change attitudes toward the mentally disabled. I can understand why you weren't laughing when you saw the movie.
I tend to put such issues in the hands of the audience. Those who see "Tropic Thunder" and who know about the controversy now must decide whether the disabled community is over-reacting or whether viewers should take a closer look at what's making them laugh.
As for impact? I"m guessing a boycott will have little effect on a movie that's set to challenge "Dark Knight" for the nation's number one box-office spot.