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Overall Rating
3.83

Awesome: 27.78%
Worth A Look47.22%
Average: 12.5%
Pretty Bad: 5.56%
Total Crap: 6.94%

6 reviews, 36 user ratings



Tropic Thunder
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by Mel Valentin

"Apocalypse Then, Now, and Forever... Wait, was the line again?"
4 stars

As the summer movie season winds down, the release schedule shifts focus from superhero-themed blockbusters (e.g., "The Dark Knight," "Hancock," "The Incredible Hulk," "Iron Man") to male-oriented comedies (e.g., the forthcoming "The Rocker," "Pineapple Express," "Step Brothers"), none likely to be as overbroad, outrageous, offensive, and obnoxious as Ben Stiller’s ("Zoolander," "The Cable Guy," "Reality Bites") fourth try at directing (he also co-wrote the screenplay), "Tropic Thunder," an action-war-comedy that skewers action film conventions and the Hollywood producers, agents, and studios who’ve profited handsomely from them for the last thirty years. Already controversial for its inclusion of an Australian actor played by Robert Downey Jr. who takes Method acting to an extreme and the depiction of a developmentally challenged character (and the actors who play them to obtain critical acclaim and year-end awards), "Tropic Thunder" has a lot to answer for.

Tropic Thunder is both the name of the film we’re watching, the name of a Vietnam War memoir written by Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), a decorated Vietnam veteran, and the film-within-a-film adaptation first-time director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is shooting on location in Vietnam. Cockburn has been given an Apocalypse Now-sized budget by producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) and egomaniac, career-obsessed stars to work with. Cockburn’s actors, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), a Sylvester Stallone-clone badly in need of a career reboot, Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), a five-time Oscar-winning Australian actor so deep into Method acting that he’s undergone a controversial pigmentation operation (his character’s an African-American sergeant), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a flatulence-prone, drug-addicted comedian best known for his starring roles in comedies modeled after The Klumps, Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), a rapper-turned-pitchman-turned-actor hoping Tropic Thunder will make him a "serious" actor, and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), a noob actor overwhelmed by the star power around him.

After an expensive (as in $4 million expensive) scene goes awry, Grossman threatens to pull the plug on Tropic Thunder unless Cockburn can get the actors to put aside their differences and work collaboratively. Desperate, Cockburn turns to Tayback for advice. Tayback suggests they go guerrilla-style: find a remote location, set up hidden cameras, bring in the explosives expert, Cody (Danny McBride), on the sly to lay down some practical effects, and drop off the actors in the middle of the sh*t (as the grizzled Tayback likes to call it). With nothing left to lose, Cockburn agrees. A helicopter flight later, Cockburn and the actors are dropped off in the middle of the jungle. Before you can say land mine, everything goes wrong, very wrong. Tayback and Cody are separated from the actors, explosions go off, and a local drug lord sends his small army to take out the Americans. The dim-witted Speedman thinks it’s all part of Cockburn’s plan. Lazarus suspects otherwise, but can’t convince Speedman. He also can’t get out of character, something the Alpa Chino has difficulty tolerating.

As a blunt-edged satire of action films, specifically war-action films such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon, the second half of Full Metal Jacket, and lesser entries in the genre (e.g., Hamburger Hill,Missing in Action, Rambo: First Blood Part II, The Boys in Company C), Tropic Thunder succeeds, often brilliantly, with only the occasional misguided gag or joke. Stiller brings in every convention, from the out-of-control director, the terrifyingly vulgar producer, the egocentric actors, and just about every war-action clichés, down to the de rigueur “realistic” violence (here taken to the logical, over-the-top extreme) that set the more "serious" genre entries apart from their predecessors and recognizable character types (e.g., the wise-beyond-his-years noncom officer, the nutjob, the egocentric glory hound, the inexperienced private).

Tropic Thunder also satirizes producer-driven, profit-focused Hollywood filmmaking. As the profanity-spewing Grossman, Cruise, sporting a bald pate, a padded body suit, and way too much body hair, is obviously enjoying himself, but it’s Downey Jr. in, yes, we can say it, blackface, who’s mesmerizing as the do-anything-for-his-craft Lazarus. His vocal inflections and body language never get too broad which, in turn, helps Downey Jr. and Stiller avoid the racial pitfalls implicit in a character like Lazarus. In adding the African-American rapper Alpa Chino to the mix of characters, Stiller smartly confronted and answers potential criticisms of Lazarus and his decision to go all-in on playing an African-American character.

Stiller fumbles, if not significantly, then significantly enough that it bears mentioning, the subplot involving Speedman’s singular claim for Oscar recognition: "Simple Jack," in which Speedman plays a developmentally challenged character that veers well past stereotype into caricature. Still brings the “Simple Jack” character back later in the film for some of the unfunniest scenes in "Tropic Thunder." "Tropic Thunder" also stumbles whenever the focus shifts to Jack Black’s one-note, superfluous character. At least Black’s character isn’t onscreen all that much. Stiller, of course, is onscreen in almost every scene, as is Downey Jr., continuing his real-world career resurgence. Downey Jr. also stars in one of the best bits in "Tropic Thunder," a fake trailer for a gay-themed romantic drama, "Satan’s Alley," set in a medieval monastery co-starring Tobey Maguire (playing himself). Downey Jr. manages to pull off the long, mournful, watery-eyed glances the repressed monk exchanges with Maguire’s character with just enough ironic detachment and self-mockery that you won't be able to resist laughing along with Downey Jr.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17273&reviewer=402
originally posted: 08/13/08 19:04:42
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User Comments

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
8/23/08 PAUL SHORTT ONE PART HILARIOUS; ONE PART OFFENSIVE; ONE PART TOO INSIDE HOLLYWOOD 2 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  13-Aug-2008 (R)
  DVD: 18-Nov-2008

UK
  N/A

Australia
  13-Aug-2008
  DVD: 18-Nov-2008




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