When the box office champ Ben Stiller's comedic performances aren't a variation on a soft-spoken, put-upon everyman with an eventual fuse, he's usually playing a full-blown absurdist monster with an apoplectic Napoleon complex. These bizarre creations usually adorn films in which the funnyman provides the supporting work (DODGEBALL, HEAVYWEIGHTS), but, whenever he's directing, he's free to build an entire filmic universe around his asinine, ludicrously funny, culture-skewering characters and premises. His ZOOLANDER (2001) bit at the entertainment industry with silly abandon, but Stiller has firmly set TROPIC THUNDER within the realm of sophisticated Hollywood satire. In it, a desperate director named Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) trying to make a Vietnam war movie drops his pampered actors into the heart of the jungle. Cockburn's stars include Stiller as an action hero who's starting to make bad career choices, Jack Black as an insecure low-brow comedy star going through heroin withdrawals, and Robert Downey Jr. as an Australian Oscar winner so lost in his "craft" he underwent a procedure to become black for his role. In the jungle, they remain under the delusion that they are still being filmed even after they encounter a dangerous gang of druglords. The film's basic premise has popped up several times since Hollywood's 1970s golden age in films such as THREE AMIGOS! and GALAXY QUEST. Where those films simply blanketed a classic Overconfident Bumbling Idiot comedy showcase with a pop culture lexicon, however, TROPIC THUNDER could have only been made, as on-the-nose at is, by people who have been working in the Hollywood system for years, making cutting observations along the way. Simply put, this raucous satire knows big-budget filmmaking, the delusional narcissism of actors, and even the good points of those actors--perhaps why they're celebrated--like the back of its hand.
Cast Goes for a Perfect Storm of Laughs
Of Laughs In “Tropic Thunder.” By KJP of the Channel Guide Store
Satirizing the making of Hollywood movies on film is nothing new. Everyone knows what a bloated, ego-driven industry it can be, so it’s always a ripe target. But it’s going to take some doing for such a film to out-parody Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder.
The story begins on the set of overbudget action film Tropic Thunder, a gory, Vietnam War drama starring past-his-prime prima donna Tugg Speedman (Stiller). Along with costar Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and a couple of sidemen portrayed by Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson, the group are forced by their director (Steve Coogan) to leave the comforts of their pampered on-set routines for the real-life terror of the jungle. There, they gradually find themselves in actual combat with an armed-to-the-teeth drug cartel.
Much has been made of Tropic Thunder’s un-PC elements, from Downey’s character playing his role in blackface to Stiller’s riffs on the mentally challenged. They were bound to upset a number of people, but they do underscore what this film is about: Hollywood in all its crassness. Egos, vanity, drug excesses, executives — nothing is spared the skewer. For every familiar archetype, like Matthew McConaughey’s cloying but dubiously loyal agent, there’s a Tom Cruise portraying an executive producer so abusive and psychotic that some in Hollywood might well wonder how Stiller ever got this movie greenlit in the first place.
A lot of the fun in Tropic Thunder may depend on your proximity to the actual film industry. The closer you’ve been to the moviemaking process, the funnier it’s going to seem. But it’s a world to which any moviegoer can relate. Stiller wisely makes no one onscreen very likable at all. When you see him and his gang plunked down in the jungle, you want to see them fall into harm’s way. You want to see their namby-pamby Hollywood sensibilities blown out, crushed to dust and fed back to them. And Stiller and company don’t disappoint, abusing every available action movie cliché in the process.
If there’s a flaw in Tropic Thunder’s mission, it might be that its self-referential irony is in danger of wearing out its welcome simply because irony itself has been so prevalent in popular culture in recent years. But if irony is on its way out, at least Tropic Thunder sends it out with a bang.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
The only thing missing would be for them to sing.......
It's hard to really capture the essence of this "terribly," good movie. It's hardcore, adult comedy like on the comedy circuit except it's in the form of a full length feature film with special effects. The dialogue is raw and rough like straight out of the R-Rated Las Vegas comedy strip. I really do enjoy Stiller's sense of humor, but until now I really thought that he wasn't capable of making a complete film. Usually the humor dies out half way through, the plot becomes boring, and I just want the film to end - having not regretted seeing the first half.
Director Ben Stiller generates amazing performances from his lead actors including himself, Jack Black, Downey, Brandon T. Jackson, and Nick Nolte. Jack Black especially stuck out to me as having done excellent in this film, very convincingly (read: amusingly) portraying a drug addict going through withdrawal. Ben Stiller was good too, but he didn't really seem to stick out as extraordinary. Robert Downey Jr. stole the show as I expected, with his character being a hilariously confused actor stuck in all the roles he had played. But the surprises are the big name supporting actors like Matthew McConaughey as Tugg's agent Rick Peck and of course Tom Cruise.
While this new film doesn't achieve anything "great" it is, finally, a complete film that succeeds from beginning to end. the direction was obviously open ended enough to get a lot of good work out of the actors... the plot, while not spectacular, provides a good vehicle for the humor from beginning to end. As a satire the film succeeds better in some areas than in others... near the end there are some particularly difficult scenes that are reminiscent of "Apocalypse Now" "Platoon" and "The Prisoner" that actually succeed somewhat. It is in this area that I find that most modern comedies fail completely, but Stiller and Co. manage to pull it off - just enough.
"Tropic Thunder" will offend virtually everyone. Stiller and crew have written bold biting comedy blind to elements of conventional taste that mercilessly mocks the egos at play in the world of celebrity and entertainment. If you like this film, I also recommend "The Party" as they are very similar in some ways (though The Party is more subtle) and I can't help but think that "The Party" was a bit of an inspiration for this film.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful.
Rude, witty, and ballsy
Starting with the best fake-trailers this side of Grindhouse, TROPIC THUNDER develops into the most uniquely wacky blend of satire/action/ and gross-out I've ever seen. At first it appears to be a straight-up spoof on popular war films, then it becomes a film within a film, then an attack on Hollywood and the film industry in general. Also present are some rather shocking (and hilarious) sight gags (exploding film-crew members, the brutal slaughter of an endangered species) that managed to catch everyone off guard (yet not offend them).
The main reason TROPIC THUNDER works so well though is it's stellar ensemble cast. You have the likes of Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, Jay Baruchel, Steve Coogan, and Nick Nolte all turning in terrific comedic performances that they obviously had fun with. Tom Cruise gives the extended cameo of the year as a studio executive, while Tobey Maguire and a slew of other actors make notable appearances. Ultimately it is Downey Jr. who steals almost every scene as the platoon's very white, African-American squad leader.
Rude, witty, and ballsy, TROPIC THUNDER is a great time at the movies. It's hard finding worth-while large budget comedies these days, but DIRECTOR Ben Stiller, supported by a strong cast and a great premise, has proved himself to be the right man for the task.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
It Is What It Is...
Wonderfully put together, although in a documentary-style format, the movie was altogether a good time. The players were well picked; they complimented each other well and fit their roles to a 'T'. The movie was a bit long for this reviewer's liking, but to make the elements of the plot work the overrun timing might have helped everything out. Jack Black's character was funny and clueless, as he can portray so well. Ben Stiller was a good center, as he was the stereotypical self-centered movie star. As this reviewer knows where Stiller came from and ended up, in his career; this role was completely acceptable. Others might complain that Stiller is really this kind of person and there's no reason to make a character around it...review back into his life and career and give me your opinion then. Robert Downey Jr.'s character was well done; I especially like the story they put behind him. Downey is making a huge comeback with his career and myself I can dig that...Downey still has many characters I am waiting to hear from. From my favorite of Jack Jericho, in Pick-Up Artist, to his monumental role of Charlie Chaplin; this man is talent that they'll be writing about centuries after his time. Shall we never forget the implementation of Nick Nolte in this movie; Nolte's genius has been heard of in so many ways that enough will never be said about this unbound super-actor. This movie did not earn an excellent rating from this reviewer for reason that it didn't quite feel like there was reason for a lot of the plot to be in there. As the movie ended, I walked out of the theater with a good feeling about the movie and a happiness that I just paid a good amount of money on he ticket and drink. There still was the feeling that I had, feeling that I wanted more out of the movie. In the early eighties, they started to mainstream on making sequels to movies, so that the story could go on; logically, there isn't much one could add to this story to make it supreme, but the challenge has been put out there.