Anthony's Film Review
Tropic Thunder (2008)
This combination of Hollywood satire and war humor delivers more cleverness than expected...
Tropic Thunder did a really good job promoting itself. I remember seeing its trailer and admiring the premise of actors filming a Vietnam War movie on location and getting into a real life-and-death situation. Also, the idea of Robert Downey Jr. as an Australian actor playing an African-American character for the fictitious war movie is quite funny. Then you have the movie poster for Tropic Thunder. There's Ben Stiller in a goofy-looking Rambo-like pose. There's Jack Black, who looks just as goofy and also a bit unrecognizable. And there's Robert Downey Jr. who is the goofiest of all because he's totally unrecognizable.
If that isn't enough, consider how this image constantly bombarded me. I take a light-rail train to and from work on a daily basis. The Tropic Thunder poster was placed at the two stations I travel between. I had to see the poster twice in every single morning one-way trip, then two more times on the afternoon return trip. Multiply that by five days a week for four weeks. In all, the poster tempted me at least 80 times, enough for me to want to see the movie for some great laughs. After all, the poster did say, "Get some."
When I finally saw the movie, I already laughed twice in the first 30 seconds. You see, this movie about a fictitious movie begins with some fictitious trailers and a fictitious ad featuring four of the fictitious actors. It's an ingenious way to begin the movie. What makes each faux trailer funny isn't so much its content as much as where it's placed. To get the biggest laugh out of this joke, you have to watch Tropic Thunder in a theater where 15 minutes of movie trailers are played before the feature presentation.
Now I finally discuss the plot of the movie. The fictitious war movie Tropic Thunder, based on a book by Vietnam veteran "Four Leaf" Tayback (Nick Nolte), is being shot on location in Southeast Asia. Its main cast includes Tugg Speedman (Stiller), an action movie star who also diversified and starred in the box-office bomb Simple Jack about a mentally disabled farmboy; Jeff Portnoy (Black), a comic actor who is also a heroin addict; and Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr.), a four-time Oscar winner who always goes to great lengths to prepare for his roles. The war movie also stars rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), who is not to be confused with a certain Hollywood legend, and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), who is the only cast member to have read the book on which the movie is based. Basically, lack of coordination from director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) results in bad timing for pyrotechnic effects and financial disaster for the film in production. Then Four Leaf has an idea. The only way to make the movie is to simulate realistic war situations for the actors and capture the action on hidden cameras. As you can imagine, things go horribly wrong.
Tropic Thunder (the real movie, not the movie-within-the-movie) has only a couple of big laughs, mainly because the trailers and clips I saw already gave away about half of the jokes. Nevertheless, it's still funny. It has an amusing plot that satirizes Hollywood actors, filmmakers, and producers. When the characters of Hollywood interact with the characters of war, both sides still think they are in their own little worlds. As outside observers, we are watching this with amusement. It's the same as watching some clueless people attempt to solve a problem whose solution is obvious only to us. On top of that, there are plenty of good plot surprises.
Speaking of characters, I liked how every character is given an equal amount of screen time to be funny in their own ways. Nobody steals the whole show. Each character may only have about several minutes of central attention, but it's enough. I also found myself liking the characters besides the five principal fictitious actors. My favorite of these is Les Grossman, the vulgar foul-mouthed producer of the fictitious Tropic Thunder. He is played by a surprise cameo who shall be nameless (since it was the filmmakers' original intention) who has altered his normal physical appearance for this movie. Never mind Robert Downey Jr.'s daring interracial performance. Les Grossman, besides Kirk Lazarus, is a reason to see Tropic Thunder.
Ben Stiller has been in comedies that have been, at best, pretty good. Tropic Thunder is another comedy of this caliber, but it's nice to see him write and direct this movie. He had this idea for Tropic Thunder for quite a while, and now it's brought to the big screen with good results. After this movie, maybe he could make movies based on the fake trailers I mentioned earlier: "Scorcher VI" with Tugg Speedman, "The Fatties: Fart 2" with Jeff Portnoy, and "Satan's Alley" with Kirk Lazarus and another cameo who shall be nameless. And while he's at it, maybe Alpa Chino can sell more of his Booty Sweat.
For more information about Tropic Thunder, visit the Internet Movie Database.