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Tropic Thunder

A movie directed by Ben Stiller

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Funny In Spite of Itself: Tropic Thunder

  • Sep 16, 2008
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While Ben Stiller's latest comedy film, Tropic Thunder isn't a perfect film it is one of the better comedies to come along this summer (although, when your competition is comprised of films like The Love Guru, maybe this is damning it with faint praise). It's long, it doesn't always work, and one gets the feeling that Stiller and company applied an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach when it came to the material, but there are still enough funny bits and solid performances to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, an action icon whose star is in decline thanks to a series of uninspired sequels and a portrayal of a mentally retarded kid in an attempt to garner Oscar buzz. In hopes of resuscitating his career, he's signed on to star in Tropic Thunder, a story based on a daring rescue mission during the Vietnam war. His co-stars include crazy method actor (so crazy he's undergone a controversial "skin pigmentation treatment" in order to play a black man) Kirk Lazurus (Robert Downey Jr.), drug-addled comedian Jeff Portnoy--who's starred in a series of comedies where he plays multiple characters and farts a lot (Jack Black), an entrepreneurial hip hop star named Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and a young actor named Kevin Sandusky—who no one seems to respect.

The film is behind schedule and over budget, causing director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) to decide to shoot the film guerilla style—sending his pampered stars out in the jungles of Vietnam. Unfortunately his cast is so clueless that they assume it's all still just a film even when they run afoul of a Vietnamese drug syndicate. Now they have to make it out of the jungle alive—and make a lot of jokes in the process.

There's a veritable ton of star power on display in the film. Aside from the main cast, there are also smaller performances from actors such as Matthew McConaughey and Nick Nolte. Both actors are solid in these lesser roles (particularly McConaughey). However, the real scene-stealer in Tropic Thunder is none other than Tom Cruise. Cruise, buried under a mountain of make-up, hair, and prosthetic body fat is damn near unrecognizable as film producer Les Grossman. His performance is hilariously vulgar and shows that the actor is still capable of stepping outside of his standard serious dramatic leading roles.

Of the main cast, Robert Downey Jr. is the soul of the film. His portrayal of Kirk Lazarus is both hilarious and the centering point for the film whenever it gets off track (which is more often than one would hope). The character is so goofy and in to his method that he stays in black face and accent even when it's clear that what's happening around him is no longer a film. His Yoda-like ruminations on acting ("I don't read the script—the script reads me") are all the more funny because I've heard real actors express similar sentiments with complete earnestness.

Where Tropic Thunder tends to miss the mark is in Stiller's manic approach to comedy. When it works, it leads to some genuinely funny moments. However, he has this tendency to push a gag beyond the point of humor and into the land of beating a dead horse. This is something that turns up at various points in the film's narrative (notably in the second act where the drug cartel comes into play). Plus the idea of lampooning Hollywood (done by a guy who's made quite the living working well within the Hollywood system no less) isn't exactly branching out into the land of scathing satire. It's more like shooting fish in a barrel.

The film runs for roughly an hour and fifty minutes. I'm not sure why, but suddenly everyone making a comedy thinks their film is so hilarious that it needs to run as close to two hours as it can without actually going over (last week's Pineapple Express is yet another example of this). Whatever happened to the old comedian's credo of "leave them wanting more"? Tropic Thunder could have easily been cut down to 90 minutes and the resultant film would almost assuredly have been more effective. The latter stages of the second act bog down quite a bit and most of that footage could have been dropped with no adverse affect on the final product.

In spite of all this, Tropic Thunder is still an entertaining film. I don't think it's destined for "comedy classic" status (so few films are), but the performances from Stiller and crew manage to make up for the rest of the film's shortcomings. It's funny—but it's not hysterical because there are gaps between the laughs that last far too long. Funny is good though—particularly this summer, where the laughs have been relatively few and far between in general. Tropic Thunder is definitely worth checking out, but I'd recommend catching it at the cheaper matinee price.

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April 12, 2009
Awesome review! You're right, Tropic Thunder was longer than necessary, some of the scenes were unnecessary, and only some of the jokes were funny.

Tom Cruise was a hit, though!
March 11, 2009
Something we wrote, titled - Enough of the Expected - "Tropic Thunder is a movie about a movie about a book. (Is that self-reflexive enough for you?) The actors are like you imagine actors to be in Hollywood. The director, the special effects guy, the agent, the producer as well. Ben Stiller is a better (real) director then (fake and real) actor in this movie. Robert Downey Jr. struggles to reach the high bar he's been at lately. Jack Black is the same old, same old. Jay Baruchel is a star waiting to shine. Roles from Tom Crusie, Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey and Bill Hader are filler. The story is what shines - Stiller, Ethan Cohen and Justin Theroux's work. We wonder what this movie would have been like if Cohen had directed? TT is sprinkled with enough laughs, action and drama to keep it interesting. Opening and ending sequences of replicated trailers and award shows is the highlight."
March 05, 2009
Maybe Cruise's behavior has made him such a pariah that he got the part auditioning in make up and they didn't know who they had until much later. =)
February 10, 2009
Downey stole the show on this one! I still cannot believe that Cruise became a chameleon.
February 02, 2009
Obviously just a rental. I'll probably wind up fast forwarding for Downey's parts, and maybe to catch that Tom Cruise cameo everyone is talking about--never thought I'd say that!
December 12, 2008
I was actually pretty disappointed with Tropic Thunder. It was way, way too long and the jokes were really very overdone. I hate to say it, but it's really beginning to look like if you've seen one Apatow movie, you can pretty much summarize or guess at the jokes that are going to be in a different one. I understand the guy has a pretty successful and highly recognizable comedy style but it gets kind of stale after 986 movies.
More Tropic Thunder reviews
review by . September 28, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Thunderously Hilarious.
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 …
Quick Tip by . October 01, 2010
Good fun to watch with the guys, though definitely odd.
Quick Tip by . August 09, 2010
A good comedy is paced like a good action film, and the (laughable?) turns to drama(?) in the final third made me shrug and not care.
Quick Tip by . July 18, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This movie was great i loved it! I would watch it again if I had it myself.
Quick Tip by . July 14, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This is a great parody on the art and hype of movie making.
Quick Tip by . July 14, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
RD Jr. was great...but Cruise steals the show as Les Grossman. Will we see a LG movie?!
Quick Tip by . December 17, 2009
Just seen this film and it was odd to say the least - watchable but not particularly funny ha ha.
Quick Tip by . August 21, 2009
if i didn't know that Robert Downey Jr was in this film, i wouldn't have been able to pick him out. this started much better than it ended.
review by . April 29, 2009
Tropic Thunder is a guilty pleasure - much along the lines of Zoolander in that it's packed with witticisms and caricatures that take a few viewings to go from very funny to absolutely hilarious. My wife hated this film by the way, and it's definitely not for everyone - but if you have a bizarre sense of humor, you'll like it. Rather than re-hash the plot, I'd like to quote my favorite parts without giving anything away:     - Tom Cruise as the Producer (Les Grossman) is in his …
review by . May 17, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Creative and original     Cons: More clever than funny     The Bottom Line: Thun-der!     You've probably heard all the incessant fawning over Robert Downey Junior's performance in Tropic Thunder as actor Kirk Lazarus, a five-time Oscar winner who gets so wrapped up in his characters that he even gets a blackface operation to play a black Vietnam war vet in a Vietnam movie. As Lazarus puts it himself, "I don't drop character until …
About the reviewer
Mike Bracken ()
Ranked #217
I'm a 36-year-old film critic who specializes in Horror and Cult Cinema as well as Asian films. I spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture quiz show, Beat the Geeks. I'm also … more
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It's not really a knock to say that nothing inTropic Thunderis funnier than its first five minutes, so sly that--especially for people watching in theaters--you don't realize right away theyarethe opening minutes of the movie. This outrageous comedy begins with a series of fake previews, each introducing one of the main characters in the film-proper (not that there's anything proper about this film) and each bearing the familiar logo of a different motion picture studio: Universal, DreamWorks SKG, et al. Such playing fast and loose with corporate talismans verges on sacrilege, but it's an index of how much le tout Tinseltown endorses the movie as a demented valentine to itself. The premise is that the cast of a would-be "Son of Rambo" movie shooting in some Southeast Asian jungle get into a real shooting war with drug-smuggling montagnards. Don't ask--though the movie does have an answer--why such highly paid, usually ultra-pampered personnel as superhero Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Mozart of fart comedy Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), hip-hop artist Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and five-time Oscar-winner Kirk Lazarus from Aus-try-leeah (Robert Downey Jr.) should be running through the jungle unattended and very vulnerable. It matters only that the real-life cast has a high time kidding their own profession and flexing their comedic muscles. Bonus points go to Stiller for co-writing the script (with Justin Theroux) and directing, and to Downey,...
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Director: Ben Stiller
Release Date: 13 August 2008 (USA)
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux
Runtime: 107 min
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