High-concept hilarity pulled off extremely well! 4.5 stars!!!!!
Oct 31, 2008
Many months ago, when I first heard the concept behind TROPIC THUNDER, and the names of the cast members, my interest was certainly quite high...but so was my expectation of disappointment. So often, movies with great concepts fail to execute well (good example, HANCOCK).
The concept: a group of film stars are working on a Vietnam combat film, based on a true story about a brave rescue of a POW. Little do the bickering, clueless actors know, but they've been spotted by a group of REAL jungle drug-lords, who believe this group of American soldiers are REAL DEA agents coming for them. Suddenly, these whiny actors find out exactly how useless their guns full of blanks are!
The cast: Ben Stiller (who also directed the film) as a fading action superstar, Jack Black as a grade Z gross-out comedian eager to stretch his horizons in a serious film (but also dealing with some major drug use issues of his own), Brandon Jackson as a rapper trying to add another line of work to his growing list of achievements and most notably, Robert Downey Jr as Kirk Lazarus a multi-Oscar-winning Australian method actor who has undergone extensive plastic surgery in order to play the African-American sergeant of the team. Also along are Steve Coogan as their director, Jay Baruchel as a young, up-and-coming actor who may the only person in the group with a clue, Danny McBride as their explosives expert and Nick Nolte as the old Vietnam vet whose story they are telling.
The result?: I'm happy to say that overall, this movie is a SMASHING success. As with any action heavy comedy, there are moments when the comedy flags and the action doesn't thrill enough to make up for it...but overall, Stiller and company have very successfully made this film and its high concept work!!
The movie is packed full of "inside" jokes about method acting, Oscar-baiting performances, rap artists who shill for their own products (Jackson plays the rapper Alpo-Chino who is trying to work in references to his new energy drink "Booty Sweat" into this Nam epic), etc., etc. I guess if this was the first movie you'd seen in ten years, you'd miss half the jokes. But if you're an avid filmgoer, TROPIC THUNDER is rich with snide digs at the film industry. And best of all, we have Tom Cruise as the most foul-mouthed, obnoxious studio head in history. He's funny indeed, although the character is actually not all that funny...it's mostly amusing to be in on the joke of a fat, bald, excessively hairy Tom Cruise dancing to rap music and swearing like he's in a Tarentino flick. Matthew McConaghy shows up as Stiller's agent, and he's funnier than I've seen him in five years (or perhaps ever).
I suppose I could go on and on about the various "bits" in the film...but let me just touch on a couple of high points. First of all, be sure NOT to be late for the film. It begins, without warning, with a series of fake movie trailers featuring our various stars in various ridiculous films. These are fall on the floor funny, and set up the 4 main characters very neatly indeed for us. This is followed by a very high budget Vietnam action sequence which manages to make fun of pretty much all Vietnam movie clichés in about 4 minutes. Best of all is Stiller's over-the-top reenactment of Willem Dafoe's death scene in PLATOON. I also enjoyed the unbelievable (and unbelievably silly) gore of these scenes. They poke hilarious fun at how war movies have become so much about showing us the damage grenades, bullets and shrapnel do to the human body. These early moments put me on such a high of hilarity that my goodwill towards the film allowed me to coast over the slower moments with minimal unhappiness.
Also, Robert Downey has received lots of attention for his role. Here's a serious American actor playing a super-serious Australian actor (with the most piercing blue eyes!) whose playing a serious caricature of a black army sergeant in the Vietnam era. It's a boldly tasteless choice, and Downey nails it. He makes fun of self-important, showy acting AND Hollywood's deaf ear towards stereotypes in one fell swoop. His interactions with Alpo-Chino, who really IS black, are hilarious. What a summer Downey has had!!
What about the less than wonderful things? There aren't too many. I'd say that Jack Black fares least well of the bunch. His character is the wildest and most unhinged of the group, and this allows Black to coast on just being manic far too often. Everyone is a TYPE...but Black shows little humanity below that surface. Also, the action sequences near the end of the film make little sense...once again, these bad guys apparently couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with all their machine guns. How many films rely on the villains being bad shots?!?! I think it would have been possible to actually make us feel these actors were in real danger. (Although the FINAL action scene manages to be explosive and funny at the same time.) And, while not a criticism of the film per se, I think it's time for Stiller to put away the dumb lug character: DODGEBALL, ZOOLANDER and now TROPIC THUNDER. It's funny, but now it is also very, very predictable, this character Stiller plays of the successful but extremely clueless schmuck.
Overall though, as the summer of 2008 winds down, it was great to see a film where laughs and a huge budget went together so smoothly. Well done.
Warning If your easily offened (or have no sence of humor) do not watch this film. OK so were do I begin, how about the fake trailers at the begining or how bout Tom Cruises awesome dancing skills (sarcasm). What ever the case likeTopic Thunder is similar in storyline to Malibu's Most Wanted its about a group of actors who think they are filming a movie in the jungle, but are completely … more
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