Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Remember in Extras when Ben Stiller played himself directing a war-movie? Well with Tropic Thunder, that’s exactly what he does (in real life, mind you). Going behind the camera for the first time since Zoolander, Stiller combines an A-list ensemble with the idea he first had in '87 - while filming Empire Of The Sun - in the hopes of yet another laughter-fest.

On the set of a Vietnam movie, director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is having problems with his cast. Fading action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) can’t emote, Oscar-magnet method-actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr) has had skin alterations to appear like an African American and drug-addicted funnyman Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is only known for crude flatulence-based pictures. Taking the advice of the man the movie is based on (Nick Nolte), Cockburn drops the actors into a real jungle unaware that a deadly drug cartel are also out there.

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Sadly, despite plenty of obvious effort and passion, this film is not as hilarious as the early clips suggested. It's funny sure, but like nearly every other comedy around today, it blows its side-splitting wad early by showing all the laugh-out-loud moments (“what do you mean, you people?”…“what do YOU mean, you people?”) in the very promising trailer.

However, where it succeeds is in its near-constant satirising of Hollywood and its inner-workings. Though these will bypass your average popcorn-muncher, the cinema savvy will love Stiller et al’s chutzpah and appreciate all the movie hat-tips that range from subtle (Apocalpyse Now, Hamburger Hill, Full Metal Jacket) to downright smack-you-in-the-face (Platoon, Dog Soldiers).

Yes it’s nothing we didn’t know already, with shows like Entourage doing this sort of thing better on a weekly basis - actors are insecure, competitive and narcissistic while the suits are money-driven, ruthless and shameless - but there’s still a lot of truth on show: action franchises often peak in the first instalments (see Predator, Die Hard, Raiders Of The Lost Ark), rap-stars are often tossed into the trade (try Tupac, Eminem, 50 Cent) and Jack Black does movies that feature faeces (Envy). Hell, there’s even some diamond advice on how to win an Oscar.

Giving this advice is the man that unquestionably walks away with the film; Robert Downey Jr. While the heavily made-up Tom Cruise is an absolute hoot in full shouty, cursing mode (not to mention his funky dancing), comeback kid Downey Jr creates an instant comedy-classic which, on the back of his performance as Iron Man, cements his position as one of the most versatile/talented/just bloody good actors around today. As the man says "I'm a lead farmer motherf~@ka!"

Elsewhere, Stiller’s impressively cut Stallone-from-Rocky III-a-like Speedman ends up being another variation of his recognisable vanity-driven character (see Derek Zoolander, White Goodman from Dodgeball), Jack Black’s only laughs come from the list of acts he says he’ll do to get a fix while strapped to a tree and Steve Coogan’s initially-foppish director almost blends into the background. While Apatow-buddy Jay Baruchel nabs a few laughs and Brandon T Jackson cleverly gives a voice to all those opposed to Downey Jr’s controversial role, it’s likely the audience will take away the smaller performances by a keen Matthew McConnaghey and a gruff-as-ever Nick Nolte.

Despite not living up to the comedy napalm hinted in the trailer, Ben Stiller’s vision still has moments of inspired genius. When all is said and done, it’s certainly no tropic blunder.

Reviewed on: 21 Jan 2009
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Actors take their craft a little bit too far in war comedy...
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Director: Ben Stiller

Writer: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen

Starring: Jeff Kahn, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Ruivivar, Jack Black, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson, Ben Stiller, Eric Winzenried, Steve Coogan, Valerie Azlynn, Tom Cruise

Year: 2008

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA, Germany


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