Movie Review for Tropic Thunder (2008)

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Review #669 of 365
Movie Review of Tropic Thunder (2008) [R] 107 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.25
Where Viewed: Harkins Ciné Capri at Northfield 18, Denver, CO
When Seen: 13 August 2008 @ 12:30 pm
DVD Release Date: 18 November 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
After the Credits: Nothing, but you won't want to miss the previews!

Soundtrack: Download now from Edwin Starr - Tropic Thunder (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Ben Stiller (Zoolander )
Screenplay by: Ben Stiller (Zoolander ) • Justin Theroux (debut) • Etan Cohen with story by Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man) • Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda) • Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up) • Brandon T. Jackson (This Christmas) • Ben Stiller (The Heartbreak Kid) • Tom Cruise (Lions for Lambs) • Steve Coogan (Hot Fuzz) • Danny R. McBride (Pineapple Express) • Bill Hader (Pineapple Express) • Nick Nolte (Off the Black) • Matthew McConaughey (Fool's Gold) • Brandon Soo Hoo (debut)
Cameos: Maria Menounos • Tyra Banks • Christine Taylor • Jon Voight • Jennifer Love Hewitt • Jason Bateman • Lance Bass • Alicia Silverstone • Tobey Maguire

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Ben Stiller truly outdid himself with the production, direction, and writing (not to mention acting in) the most outrageously satirical film of 2008 if not the past few years. With a return to his own comedic roots and carrying many torches, Tropic Thunder skewers everything from war films to Academy Award® winning actors who portrayed mentally challenged people and everyone and everything in between. It remains to be seen how well received the deeper satire is, fortunately, there's quite a bit of sticky Stiller comedy to keep anyone with comedy demands happy. Moreover, his timing and choice of topic to satirize might not be viewed as being the most appropriate.

The premise for the film is practically genius. Though, of course it's not a new idea to make a movie about making a movie, it's pretty far out to put actors who think they're filming a gritty drama about the experiences of Sergeant Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) as he struggled to survive in Viet Nam right smack dab in the middle of the real war on drugs in a remote region of southeast Asia—the action was actually filmed in Hawai'i. The device could have become a gimmick in the wrong hands, however Mr. Stiller and co-writers Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen had too many tricks up their sleeves to let that happen. The farcical film begins perfectly with faux coming attractions from the film within a film's three main stars: Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller). Kirk is the Australian bad boy actor genius who's won more awards than Pacino and DeNiro combined. Jeff is the comedic ne'er do well whose claim to fame wafts up from the flatulence of the Fatty Family films in which he portrays all the roles in obvious tribute to Eddie Murphy. Tugg is the action hero Stallone / Schwarznegger rolled into one fresh off the fifth sequel to his long running action hero franchise. His one breakout role was in the film Simple Jack about a mentally challenged individual to whom he constantly refers as "retarded"; and, while there is certain to be an uproar over his comments about his character, there must be a realization at some point that his lack of sophistication and honest devotion to the character puts an alternate spin on any surface interpretations or conclusions one might draw about this. Adding to the layers of seemingly political incorrectness, Kirk has undergone a controversial skin pigmentation procedure to facilitate his portrayal of the Black Duty Sergeant in the film.

…so deep, you'll have to dig down deep to get to the depths of the deepness, and even then, you may not see how deep it is…
Rounding out this spoof band of brothers are the young and up and coming Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) whose commercials for canned Boody Sweat have made him a household name and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) the only stable, good, and genuine actor / soldier in the acting troop / platoon. They are filming under the direction of acclaimed English director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) and the watchful eye of the real Four Leaf Tayback who wrote their source material book, Tropic Thunder when a climatic emotional scene between Kirk's and Tugg's character goes awry. A backdrop pyrotechnical fiasco set off by explosives expert Cody (Danny McBride) leads to a massive kick in the pants from studio executive, Les Grossman (Tom Cruise in heavy, heavy make-up and hairy, rotund body suit). Grossman is one of those smarmy, soulless, cheesy, lecherous Hollywood producers you hear and read about, but you'll never be able to believe how perfectly much fun Tom Cruise must have bringing this sure-to-be-long-remembered characters to life. Shortly thereafter, with the film in utter tabloid entertainment show disarray, Four Leaf convinces or inspires Damien to put the men in the real jungle in what they would perceive to be real danger not knowing it would, instead, be studio-generated danger. Shortly after touching down in a remote jungle as per Tayback's specification, Damien attempts to sell his stars on 'his' new plan to make the best war movie ever. He and the crew have set up a mission for them and wired the jungle with remote cameras to catch all of the action. The men will be on their own to get to the river and ultimately escape this war time nightmare. Then he accidentally steps on a real land mine, a left over relic from the real war in the region, and is blown to smithereens literally right before their eyes. They have no idea that this is a pivotal moment in both their lives and that of the film that will eventually emerge from all of this. The actors will have to become real men each with his own demons to overcome, and the actors playing the actors playing actors playing real men will have to overcome their own demons. Got that?

In effect, director Ben Stiller, has created a surreal acting experience for his real cast, and each man, in his own way, bursts forth from all previous pigeon holes into which he may have been categorized showing off entirely new dimensions of acting ability. There will be some who attempt to minimize these accomplishments, but one only has to contemplate the complexity of Robert Downey Jr.'s role for a few minutes to realize the truth of this statement. Tackling the troubled super hero Iron Man this summer reopened the eyes of his fans and non-believers as to his capabilities, but this role, seriously moves him to another galaxy. The same can be said, to slightly lesser degrees, about Jack Black and Ben Stiller himself although neither's character within a character is as deep at is Mr. Downey Jr.'s character. Overall, the core cast was absolutely outstanding. Ironically, it is little Jay Baruchel as the still-wet-behind-the-ears puppy dog Kevin Sandusky whom you'll assume at once is there to be killed off and serve as the source of dramatic hero-loss, who also rises above his previous ability to emerge as the one adult voice in a cast within a cast of spoiled babies. His performance is more inspired than his closer-in-age troop mate of Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) but then so is his character. Give Ben Stiller his due for making a comedy with dramatic power that's far, far smarter than a first look will reveal. Sure, you can go see this film and laugh for there's great comedy in it. You can go for the dramatic moments. You can go to see what all the controversy will be about as the film certainly has intended to stir some up.

…did you get that this film is deep?...
You can go to see Tom Cruise play a true megalomaniac or Matthew McConaughey as the super agent who will never give up trying to get Tivo® for his client. Really, though, you should see this film for none of those reasons. You should see this film because you will be able to spend the next few weeks thinking about and dissecting every element of the film right down to why the studios decided to release it in the oft-thought throw-away month of August where no matter how hard we want it to be to the contrary, the final month of the Summer Film Season, which begins actually in the Spring month of May, is where bad movies go to die. Perhaps the release date was selected and intended to add to the irony for if people wanted to talk about some film and acting awards for Tropic Thunder, if they really wanted to ponder the film and the incredible talent involved, especially, in acting, directing, and writing the film, they could, but they probably won't. They probably won't because drama and scathing satire disguised as comedy disguised as fake drama might just be a little too deep for most people.

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Other Projects Featuring Tropic Thunder (2008)
Cast Members
Robert Downey JrJack BlackJay Baruchel
Brandon T. JacksonBen StillerTom Cruise
Steve CooganDanny R. McBrideBill Hader
Nick NolteBrandon Soo Hoo
Ben Stiller
Ben StillerJustin TherouxEtan Cohen

Review-lite Tropic Thunder (2008) [max of 150 words]
If you like stepping in a little controversy, go see Tropic Thunder, but be prepared, honestly, to bring a legal pad and take notes for this film is truly a text book in and of itself when it comes to brilliance in filmmaking. A set of unexpectedly great actors deliver unexpectedly inspired performances under the direction of satirical genius Ben Stiller who has just relocated to a new time zone on the map of greatness with this unbelievable film achievement. You can buy the controversies and totally miss what this film is really about and what has really been achieved or you can spend the next few weeks pouring over your notes and realize what risks it took to make this movie and to stand by it in the end.

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John Thomas "Kooz" Kuczmarski said...

awesome that you rated Tropic with such a high WIP
I have a ton of reverence for RDJs acting work. I actually caught on to his talent after catching Scanner Darkly and Zodiac. He definitely has no pigeon holes that he crawls in to as an actor, but the idea of a film that shatters pigeon holes for much of the cast is a really cool observation!

Also, really cool insight into the likely-overlooked satirical depth of the film. I'll definitely have to check that out!

skin pigmentation procedure, that's a riot!
"Australian bad boy actor genius who's won more awards than Pacino and DeNiro combined" LO

do you think its possible you read some of the depth into the film or was satirical depth the original intention of stiller? Either way looks awesome. Want to catch it.

"Then he accidentally steps on a real land mine, a left over relic from the real war in the region, and is blown to smithereens literally right before their eyes. They have no idea that this is a pivotal moment in both their lives and that of the film that will eventually emerge from all of this. The actors will have to become real men each with his own demons to overcome, and the actors playing the actors playing actors playing real men will have to overcome their own demons. " lol. wasn't that just a plot device to eliminate a character? lol. You're probably right, though.

John Thomas "Kooz" Kuczmarski said...

I realized one of the most appealing things about this reviews was how the movie, apparently, *effectively* spoofed overly dramatic war movies. Host Shots, for example tried to do that I think and others, and it didn't really work, hopefully this effectively and humorously satirizes overly dramatic war films, as you said it does, winning one-up for the comedy genre. lol!

movie junkie said...

Robert Downey Jr. cracks me up... he's got a knack for not taking himself too seriously