“Tropic Thunder” Movie Review

And so this is why I choose not to enter the film industry, no matter how much I love it. This satirical war comedy from director, producer and co-writer Ben Stiller doubled is $92 million budget after releasing on August 13th, 2008. Also starring Stiller in the lead role, the story follows a group of prima donna actors who are struggling to make a film about the Vietnam War. Frustrated with them, the director has them dropped into the dangerous jungles of Lao and, with the help of some hidden cameras and their own acting skills, they hopefully get something good out of the experience. Ben Stiller and his so-called “Frat Pack” are apparently a very acquired taste in terms of comedy material. Their jokes and timing are undeniably clever and witty, but it often sinks into low-brow territory with stints about drugs, sex, and farts. If that kind of humor puts you off, then Tropic Thunder may not be for you. But those willing to give it shot will experience their ribs bursting out their sides from sheer unstoppable laughter and enjoyment. The cast largely consists of comedians who are typical in their respective roles, along with a few surprise players worth mentioning. Stiller plays a special kind of character not consistent with the rest of his filmography. He’s a narcissistic, egotistical maniac trying to relive the glory days of his once-prominent film career. As with his other characters, he’s a lovable idiot whose situational hazards make him awkward yet hard to hate. Other players, include Jack Black as the star of a zany comedy franchise, Steve Coogan as the stressed director of the titular fictional film, Brandon T. Jackson as a rapper making money off seemingly misogynistic products, Danny McBride as a pyromaniac demolitions expert, Nick Nolte as a crazy veteran for whose “experiences” the film-within-a-film is based on, Jay Baruchel as a straight-laced novice in the acting world, and Matthew McConaughey as a TiVo-obsessed acting agent. They all turn in some fun and memorable performances that add more personality overall. But to get right to the point, the two stands are, first of all, Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus. Lazarus is an intense Australian method actor who undergoes a controversial skin tone change to look like and sound like an African-American soldier in Vietnam. And he refuses to break character until the DVD commentary. In terms of social commentary on whitewashing and pure comedy, that’s genius, nabbing Downey an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. This is especially impressive considering it’s a comedy released in August. Even more surprising is Tom Cruise’s against-type, almost unrecognizable performance as Les Grossman. I know Cruise mostly for his mile-long list of action films, as well as some dramas. But here, he plays a sleazy, profane, and ill-tempered studio executive who constantly threatens to pull the plug on the film. Late in the movie, when he should be worried about the fate of his stars, he simply starts dancing to a Flo Rida song, and the results are nothing short of hilarious. Hopefully, he is encouraged to take more comedic roles in the future where he just gets to go all-out crazy. Technically, the editing by Greg Hayden is fairly impressive, particularly when the main antagonists start firing their weapons at the actors. And the camera work from John Toll captures the vastness and beauty of the on-set jungle pretty well. But if I told you that this film had a memorable soundtrack, then I’d be lying to your face. Now, if for nothing else, Tropic Thunder should definitely be commended for the way it opens up. Bucking the trends of gratuitous voice-overs from one of the lead characters as well as an epic opening credits sequence, the movie instead begins with faux advertisements and trailers. It hits everything imaginable in just under 5 minutes: stupid fart comedies, endless action sequels, offensive rap products, and shameless Oscar-bait arthouse porn. It also serves as a creative way of establishing each of the film’s main characters. Speaking of faux, the whole movie’s marketing campaign was rife with fake websites containing “spoilers” for the Vietnam War film as well as fake ads for products used in the film itself. Ben Stiller has to be commended for trying to forgo the cliches of marketing a movie. Then again, the movie faced a rather significant real-life controversy in its allegedly insensitive portrayal of mental disability. In context, Ben Stiller’s character, at a low point in his career, played a mentally and physically challenged farm boy who loved prancing around with horses and girls. The other actors in the jungle make fun of him for it, with Lazarus sarcastically informing him, “Everybody knows you never go full retard.” It’s important to remember that this is a comedy, meaning anything that appears onscreen isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. And it’s not like the whole purpose of the plot is to make fun of disabled people, but it instead makes fun of all Hollywood. Behind every satire is a bit of truth, and the truth is that filmmaking is an incredibly stressful business. The director has to keep his actors in line while pleasing the corporate hierarchy that is investing their money into these projects. It’s not easy at all. The controversy aside, Tropic Thunder is a hilariously accurate depiction of what happens when a director goes too far to make the movie they want. Bounds better than Stiller’s Zoolander, this has to be one of the funniest comedies from the 2000’s, with lots of quotable dialogue and a truly bizarre and unexpected performance from Robert Downey Jr.

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