Tropic Thunder – A Movie Review
TROPIC THUNDER (2008) A MOVIE REVIEW
Not since Robert Altman’s ‘The Player’ has Hollywood been treated to such an obvious, effective and honest parody of itself. Tropic Thunder is a full frontal comedy assault that repeatedly shoves jokes a plenty down your throat and up your nose repeatedly bombarding until you relent, if only to catch your breath. Ben Stiller guides us into the weirdly dissident world of Hollywood filmmaking where not everyone will make it out alive.
The premise of Tropic Thunder is simple enough. A hapless English director has assembled a group of preening, pampered actors in the jungles of Vietnam in an attempt to make a fabulously expensive war picture. However, despite all his efforts the production is a shambles. The actors are incorrigible, the budget all but used, the studio contractors uncooperative and his patience all but worn. In a last ditch effort before the production implodes Damien Cockburn, the director assuredly portrayed by Steve Coogan, ditches his pre-madonna’s in the Vietnam jungle with a copy of the script. He tells them they are surrounded by cameras, gives them each a map and abandons them in the hope that he can salvage his movie with guerrilla tactics.
Unfortunately all does not go according to plan and with the departure of their director (in a moment that will be indelibly imprinted on the movie – goers mind) the actors find themselves in a real life conflict with terrorist drug dealers. With all hope is fading fast the biggest problem is not whether the cast can make is back to their trailers alive, but if they can be convinced they are no longer actors, but men caught in a real life conflict!
Tropic Thunder is a story that left nurtured could have completely descended into mediocrity. The insanity is coerced into a truly brilliant satire solely by the comedic performances of the actors involved. Under the tutelage of first time director Ben Stiller each performance invokes moments of complete insane delight. The film needs a backbone to subdue the lunacy and his performance, playing well Ben Stiller is able to counteract this potential pitfall. Robert Downey Junior is the ringleader of the madness. In a role in which he is clearly having immense fun with he portrays a character whom is so dedicated to his craft he literally doesn’t know where his performance ends and reality begins. His character draws stark parallels with at least two Hollywood actors today (whom shall remain nameless) and he dominates every scene he is in. His character is an Oscar winning Australian actor, whom for the purpose of his present role has dyed his skin to play a black man and whom has ‘inhibited the black man’. Or the common white stereotypes of black men. What makes his performance side-splittingly funny is that as idiotic as this concept appears he is in point of fact hilarious. If you can describe a comedy performance as ‘epic’, this is as close to ‘epic’ as a comedy performance gets.
Tropic Thunder is indeed a showcase for today’s comedic talent. Though Robert Downey Junior is not specifically known as a comedic actor, Jack Black is and his performance is perhaps the wonderfully weirdest of all. Jeff Potnoy is an immature, whining actor whom has built his career on portraying one idiotic puerile character. He is completely out of control especially in his psychotic pursuit of jellybeans where nobody, not even a pre-teen Vietcong is able to escape his wrath when unleashed. The movie works best when lunacy prevails and Jack Black’s character inhibits this philosophy. However the most shocking uproarious performance is reserved for Tom Cruise. His is merely more than a cameo, though throwing all caution to the wind in portraying studio executive Les Grossman he is so good and outside his comfort zone that it may take less discerning audience members a few minutes to realise that it is him. The ‘playa’ scene is one of utter genius on his behalf and the fact of its apparent improvisation only cements my admiration for the brief performance. With the efforts of Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Junior it is easy to forget Matthew McConaughey as sleazy Hollywood agent Rick Peck or Jay Baruchel as Kevin Standusky whom as the only member of the bunch with any survival skills attempts in vain to guide the thespians to safety when they seem more concerned in throwing him a ‘coming out’ party.
Unfortunately this is by no means a perfect movie. The plot seems somewhat disjointed. Stiller’s script bumbles around at times as if not sure which way to go. It is often a struggle to keep up with the story plainly because their isn’t really one. It seems more like a plethora of Saturday Night sketches all fused together in one hour and forty minutes. With each comedian vying to induce a hernia in your lower back before the other the only struggle is catching your breath in between scenes.
In summation, Tropic Thunder is a crude, ballsy, witty frolicking satire of Hollywood. It seems such a long time since such obvious fun was had at the movies. A strong cast deliver excellent performances and the film succeeds in achieving what Hollywood and the movies are all about – pure escapism.