A group of self-absorbed actors (Ben Stiller, Robert Downey jr, Jack Black, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride) set out to make the biggest war film ever. After ballooning costs (and the out of control egos of the pampered cast) threaten to shut down the movie, the frustrated director (Steve Coogan) refuses to stop shooting, leading his cast deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia for "increased realism," where they inadvertently encounter real bad guys who grow poppies and distribute heroin.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
On the one hand, Tropic Thunder is a giant enema up Hollywood's butt, and on the other it's a bare bum joke which outlasts its welcome. Unless you were the guys sitting behind me at the public preview. Somebody once said you can never underestimate the taste of the public, and they are right. Even so, Tom Cruise as the old, plump, bald psychotic (or is that normal?) studio boss and Robert Downey jr provide some compensation with performances so far off the wall that they're in a different suburb, never mind different house. And that's despite the fact that Downey is playing an Australian who has had a skin gene injection to make him look black, which results in one of the most unintelligible accents on screen. I missed much of the rest of the dialogue under the heavy gunfire accompanied by loud music.
But who cares. Tropic Thunder is not meant to be listened to, for krissakes. Heard yes, but listened to, no. It's like a funny fart competition in that respect; you just can't start analysing. All the same, the film's enormous talent bank depletes its credit fairly quickly and if it weren't for the noise and the action, it would seem really lame. The play-it-for-laughs tone crashes into the play-it-for-real villains, whose leader is a 12 year old with a gun and an attitude. Why is this supposed to be funny? Maybe it's a failure of the screenplay.
Nick Nolte and Steve Coogan enter into the spirit of things and caricature themselves for the sake of (f)art, while Jack Black as the farting king of screen hams it up at every opportunity. And the opening sequence of trailers that introduce us to the wanky cast is entertaining, although it is rather overdone - until it starts to wane. And that's true of most of the film: American filmmakers should spend time studying the Brits for understatement as a really useful device and try some.
The film's greatest potential asset is its bravery; director Ben Stiller crosses every line he can to be offensive and vile. It's rude, it's crude and it would be great if it were funnier.
Review by Louise Keller:
Lightening strikes twice in Tropic Thunder beginning with Robert Downey Jnr's audacious performance. What can one say about an actor who is successful as taking such pie in the sky risks as an Australian actor living and breathing the part of an Afro American, complete with the look and mannerisms without forgetting a little aside as a Chinaman? The second bolt comes in the shape of a squat, balding Tom Cruise as the Hollywood studio head from Hell who screeches threats and commands from his fortress of an office. As for the rest of this Ben Stiller vehicle, directed and co-written by he who made the Zoolander pout into an artform, it's funny at times, brazenly over the top, crude, rude, cynical, satirical, politically incorrect, topical, tropical, self indulgent, often tedious and almost explodes by its sense of its own brilliance.
The logic however, is rather inspired as we watch a movie within a movie finding itself adrift in the jungle with a crisis that is arguably more real than the blowing out of the movie's budget. The idea of the about-turn into guerrilla filmmaking and depositing the posse of actors playing Vietnam soldiers in 69 into the midst of a lush jungle replete with splendidly horned black bull and panda which comes to a sticky end, is over the top enough to grab our attention. Besides, there's Nick Nolte as the Vietnam veteran with pirate hook arms whose book is being adapted, and Matthew McConnaughey as the silver-tongued agent of Ben Stiller's Speedman. There's also youngster Brandon Soo Hoo's cigar-smoking miniature under-age drug lord and the wonderful Steve Coogan as the movie's director who unavoidably loses his head.
Much of the action is forced but Stiller tinkers with our minds with a script whose every fourth word offers some form of name dropping. The joke does wear thin after a while, as does our tolerance of Jack Black as the heroin-addicted wuss actor who wants to be strapped to a tree so he can overcome his addiction. But the glory award unequivocally goes to Downey Jnr whose dark-skinned, fuzzy-haired, big-lipped Kirk Lazarus states he does not drop out of character 'until he has done the DVD commentary'. Undoubtedly the DVD will reveal much more.
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TROPIC THUNDER (MA)
CAST: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr, Steve Coogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Brandon T. Jackson, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConnaughy, Justin Theroux
PRODUCER: Ben Stiller, Eric McLeod, Stuart Cornfeld
DIRECTOR: Ben Stiller
SCRIPT: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Toll
EDITOR: Greg Hayden
MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jeff Mann
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 21, 2008
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