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Overall Rating

Awesome: 27.4%
Worth A Look47.95%
Average: 12.33%
Pretty Bad: 5.48%
Total Crap: 6.85%

6 reviews, 37 user ratings

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Tropic Thunder
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by Erik Childress

"Calling Up The Thunder And Now You've Got It"
4 stars

Since breaking through with comic gold in There’s Something About Mary, Ben Stiller has had an up-and-down run over the past decade. Usually up with the box office but certainly down with critics of his choices. While finding success as Greg Focker, the villainous White Goodman in Dodgeball and in family efforts Madagascar and Night at the Museum, Stiller’s resume runs the gamut from decent (Keeping the Faith, Mystery Men) to the familiar (Along Came Polly, Duplex), side trips into drama (The Royal Tenenbaums, Your Friends & Neighbors) and complete misfires (Envy, Starsky & Hutch, The Heartbreak Kid). As a director, he’s been forgotten (Reality Bites), unfairly vilified (The Cable Guy) and caught up in the 9/11 digital deconstruction (Zoolander). Identity may hardly seem like a problem for Stiller since he’s been accused of playing the same nebbish problem finder over and over again, but with Tropic Thunder he has rediscovered the subversive humor from the best moments of his career and created a near-classic that is his funniest film since his remake of Meet the Parents.

In the countryside of Vietnam, Hollywood is shooting another war epic. This one based on the experiences of Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) who was captured behind enemy lines and the subject of a Private Ryan-like rescue mission. Playing Tayback in the film is action superstar, Tugg Speedman (Stiller), going dramatic this time to supplement his flailing sequel returns. Joining him in true Kelly’s Heroes style is comedian, Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), whose on-screen farting antics (a la Klumps) is matched by other habitual blowing. Rap star Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and teen actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) help round out the team. But its five-time Oscar winner, Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) who has taken method to the extreme by undergoing a pigment procedure to play the platoon’s African-American squad leader. And Kirk never breaks character.

Tropic Thunder’s director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is losing his mind with all the egos on set and hearing the wrath of the studio chief for going way over budget in just four days. The real Tayback suggests the helmer take his actors into the brush and shoot guerilla style if he wants to capture the realism that left him without his hands. Tugg is gung-ho about the opportunity even when it becomes clear they’ve been abandoned by their set leader. It takes all of a few minutes for them to be discovered by some drug runners and Tugg plunges himself right into the moment even while Kirk and the others sense something is amiss. When egos collide again, the team is split up and a real rescue mission gets underway.

Any of you thinking of this as an glorified Three Amigos wouldn’t be far off. While parallels are inescapable, this is a premise as old as To Be or Not To Be and as recent as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and few have pulled it off with such persistent panache as Tropic Thunder. No matter how many commercials and trailers you’ll have to sit through during the pre-show countdown, the big laughs kick in before the real studio logo comes up as we’re introduced to the characters and their work. It’s a testament to Stiller and their collaborators that they’ve been able to incorporate real studios into the lurch with the best sense of Hollywood solidarity since Disney and Warners shared screen time in Roger Rabbit.

And it doesn’t end there. More than any other comedy released this year (with Forgetting Sarah Marshall being the possible exception), laugh-for-laugh Tropic Thunder delivers in almost non-stop fashion. The central conceit that a collection of Hollywood egos from the filmmakers to the agents and executives are so brazen to believe that they can solve any problem on the planet underlies the potential singular joke of them being fish in a tidal wave. Only Stiller & Co. are able to sidestep this repetitive trap by spreading the laughs around in ego-less fashion, particularly in allowing Downey room to decimate the Strasberg method to such lengths that a campaign to consider him for Best Supporting Actor ironically counters what will become the film’s signature speech on the dangers of going “full retard.” Downey goes full black, or at least Kirk’s interpretation of such, and the result is perhaps the most complete comic transformation since he put on the wig and makeup as the Little Tramp in Chaplin (which gets hysterically referenced here.)

Tropic Thunder’s go-for-broke nature, especially in its vulgar tone, has already raised the ire of a number of people; those who would rather attack a high-profile film that potentially offends rather than low-level junk like Uwe Boll’s Postal that wouldn't know satire since you first have to know how to spell it. The lengths of dedication that Tugg takes to win his Oscar has already been alluded to, but Stiller can’t help but take it to extremes, introducing triply-offensive promotional standees and the idea that his stuttering, mentally-impaired character would become a signature icon that other cultures can grasp as their view of Americans just as the stereotypes we have enforced in countless gung-ho war epics. Veterans have nothing to fear since its not their sacrifice taking a hit but the arrogance of aggrandizing fiction-hounds to dishonor that sacrifice by shooting squibs for awards and cash. Everything from Apocalypse Now to Rambo takes a lickin' here and if you're so dim not to recognize when its not the handicapped or hero being made fun of, but the fakers improbably trying to get underneath their skin then may you be subjected to a lifetime loop of Radio and The Walking Dead.

The mistaken identity premise is as old as comedy itself. Finding one’s identity requires a little more depth. And with just a little more digging, Tropic Thunder may have been an all-time comedy classic instead of just one of the funniest films of 2008. Not a bad trade-off considering. Intrinsically, leaving a group of actors alone without direction is a close parallel to what actual troops faced in Vietnam and what our men and women are facing now in Iraq. Stiller and co-writer Justin Theroux mostly stay away from the politics though and keep reminding us this is a potshot at the movie industry and on that level it’s probably the best and most creative send-up since Bowfinger. At the very least, Stiller has rediscovered his comic identity. This is the Ben Stiller from his all-too-brief television show, the Stiller from the MTV Movie Award shorts; unflinching, in-the-moment and dishing material worthy of a think rather than a damp cloth. It’s refreshing to see a comedy of such consistency these days not branding the mark of Apatow and in that respect, Tropic Thunder is certainly one of the best out there.

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originally posted: 08/13/08 14:00:00
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User Comments

3/25/18 morris campbell funny satire 4 stars
7/17/12 Jeff Wilder Amusing in spots. But doesn't satirize as much as copy. 3 stars
5/06/12 fartvenugen boring poopfest 2 stars
6/27/11 Ionicera Better first half than second half but overall watchable 4 stars
1/22/11 Chris F complete and utter trash 1 stars
9/04/09 CTT Smart comedy from Stiller 4 stars
8/12/09 RLan Very funny! Good performances from Cruise, McConaughey and Nolte. 4 stars
5/24/09 MP Bartley Sometimes it gets obsessed with its own cleverness, but otherwise a real hoot. 4 stars
3/02/09 KingNeutron Dear God it sucked SO BAD - why do I bother with Stiller movies anymore? 1 stars
2/09/09 Dianne Just did not get it. Waited for something funny. Husband & I sat thru it and wondered why. 2 stars
1/15/09 Matt It looked like a good idea. Unfortunately, so did the Titanic. 1 stars
12/24/08 Meredith Childish 1 stars
12/18/08 Jon G Funny stuff 4 stars
12/06/08 Jared Robb Very well written and acted, great comedy! 5 stars
11/21/08 matt slightly overhyped, but has its moments 4 stars
9/16/08 Ravenwest Best ! 5 stars
9/14/08 Annie G Even though I haven’t seen the movies being parodied, I found this fun, fun, fun! 4 stars
9/04/08 Rachel Best part = fake trailers at the beginning. Not the slightest bit offensive. 4 stars
9/02/08 damalc pretty funny but i agree with protesters, retard bit was offensive 3 stars
8/27/08 Quigley Despite highly entertaining performances from Downey Jr. and Cruise, don't even bother 2 stars
8/27/08 Random Aloha from Kaua'i. I never stopped laughing. I'll see it again to find friends as extras! 5 stars
8/22/08 Razzo Rizzo Agree with Gonsalves, Stiller and Black disappointing, Downey mumbles 3 stars
8/18/08 fan so much fun and right on. all were excellent. 5 stars
8/17/08 Samantha Pruitt pretty funny! RDJ was really great in it, i loved Jay Baruchel the best 4 stars
8/17/08 Margeaux Downey stole the movie! 4 stars
8/17/08 Darkstar Hot Damn! Funny as hell. 5 stars
8/17/08 George Barksdale This was very good, Ben Stiller seems to always make good movies 5 stars
8/17/08 John Elrod More truth to this than the average viewer realizes. Cruise's producer is Evil Personified. 5 stars
8/16/08 ron not enough space to say how many attributes this artful masterpiece has 5 stars
8/16/08 ahnold Piece of shit - unless you like all Ben Stiller movies. Not enough space to criticize fully 1 stars
8/16/08 Terry Suprised on how good it was. Boring beginning but it gets better every minute after! 5 stars
8/16/08 Kishuta Awesome! This is how parody movies should be. 5 stars
8/15/08 crltn fantabulous 5 stars
8/15/08 bruno priani it was better than a blowjob, and thats a lot 5 stars
8/15/08 jcjs hilariously clever, acting, scenes, pyrothecnics, constant humor, fun, ya leave refreshed 5 stars
8/13/08 Nick Digilio The Funniest Movie of the Year....EASILY 5 stars
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  13-Aug-2008 (R)
  DVD: 18-Nov-2008


  DVD: 18-Nov-2008

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