Review: Tropic Thunder

August 13, 2008 at 10:55 pm Leave a comment

Leave it up to Ben Stiller to helm one of the funniest movies of 2008, which also happens to be one of the best action comedies in recent years and one of the best spoofs in cinema history.  Tropic Thunder works on all these levels only because Stiller has assembled a fine cast who know exactly what this movie’s about and what direction to take it.

If you’re reading this, then you’ve most likely seen the trailers, and probably already know the premise.  Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars.  Speedman is cast as the lead in the film ‘Tropic Thunder’, a war movie based on the ‘real’ Sgt. Four Leaf Tayback’s (Nick Nolte) life.  Speedman’s co-star’s include Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), Hollywood’s leading funnyman with a drug addiction; multiple Oscar-winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) playing Tayback’s second-in-command; Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) as the platoon’s radioman; and finally rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), who wants to be considered a ‘legitimate’ actor by being cast in a high-profile film.

The fictional film ‘Tropic Thunder’ comes under extreme scrutiny when the production goes over budget and behind schedule, which prompts the film’s producer Les Grossman to pull the plug.  The film’s director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) decides to push ahead with the production, and following the advice of Tayback, drops the cast into the proverbial ‘shit’ in Vietnam in order to draw real emotion from his actors.  Things don’t go according to plan when they wander into a local drug-trafficking gang who thinks these Hollywood actors are actually DEA agents sent to destroy their crop.

This film may have been a funny spoof, or a funny action-comedy, but it’s both of these things because it seems that everyone involved with the production knew who the end result was going to be.  The cast is no exception as everyone plays their parts very well.  Stiller is great as Speedman, the action star desparate for some real critical acclaim.  Same goes for Black, whose character is known for doing stupid comedies, but wants to be recognized on a more serious level.  The only actor that doesn’t need to acclaim is Downey, Jr.’s Lazarus, who seems to be in it for the challenge (being a white man and having to play the black platoon sergeant).

The supporting cast is great, too, with a funny performance from Danny McBride (who was in last week’s Pineapple Express) and great cameos from Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise (who is absolutely hilarious in this movie).  Jackson’s Alpa Chino (get it?) also has some funny bits, especially when he questions Lazarus’ choice to play a black man.  On a related note, Downey, Jr. is really good here, and I completely bought into his ‘white-man-as-black-man’ performance.

Watching Tropic Thunder, you’ll be able to point out the many stereotypes the movie’s making fun of.  Lazarus is basically a nod to the Hollywood bad boys that seem to get into trouble and still win Oscars (like Russell Crowe).  Portnoy is basically poking fun at Eddie Murphy and the movies where Murphy plays multiple roles, like in The Nutty Professor and Meet Dave.  Speedman himself is a parody of Hollywood action stars like Schwarzenegger and Stalone.  Tropic Thunder blends all of these things together seemlessly, and thank God it did because this may have been a mess of Stiller and Co. couldn’t pull it off.

The action here is pretty consistent throughout, in keeping with the action-comedy feel.  There’s a pretty effects-heavy scene in the beginning where you’re basically watching part of the ‘Tropic Thunder’ fictional film.  Towards the end, the action ramps up as the Speedman gets captured and Lazarus leads the cast on a rescue mission.

Tropic Thunder may face some competition with Pineapple Express and the film that won’t quite The Dark Knight, but in my opinion, it’s the best comedy released this summer, and maybe even one of the best action-comedies released in years.  Some of my friends thought it ran too long (about an hour and forty-seven minutes), but there was plenty of humor in each scene, and just enough action that the pacing never felt too slow.  Stiller does a great job in keeping the momentum going as soon as the fictional cast gets dropped into the middle of the Vietnamese jungle.  I really enjoyed this movie and I can’t wait to see what will be on the eventual DVD release.

8.5/10

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