by Molly Kenney
Tropic Thunder has all of the ingredients for a mindless summer flop: a winding film-within-a-film plot, frequent explosions, a hearty dose of sexual and bathroom humor, and a couple of comedic actors (Ben Stiller and Jack Black) with predictable routines. But flop it’s not, and for the most part, it’s not mindless either.
Written by Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux and directed by Stiller, Tropic Thunder follows the screen adaptation of a book about the Vietnam War. On site in Vietnam, Four Leaf Tayback, the book’s author and a grizzled vet played by Nick Nolte, oversees the downfall of the big-budget film and its big-headed stars (Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, and Jay Baruchel). After the studio threatens to cancel filming, Tayback convinces the director to drop his actors in the middle of the Southeast Asian jungle and simulate the combat experience. The actors become caught up in a real guerilla war and must put aside their Hollywood egos to fight their way out of the jungle to safety.
Three faux trailers precede the film, immediately establishing that actors and moviemakers should beware, harsh satire is ahead. The film delivers on this threat, with Stiller’s Tugg Speedman as a stereotypical action star with a career on the rocks, Black’s Jeff Portnoy as drug-addicted physical comedian struggling to be taken seriously, Jackson’s Alpa Chino as a rapper trying to cross over into acting, and Baruchel’s Kevin Sandusky as the trained actor too geeky to be a leading man. But it’s Downey’s Kirk Lazarus that steals the show. A five-time Oscar winner from Australia, Kirk Lazarus has undergone skin re-pigmentation in order to portray the platoon’s African-American sergeant. Downey’s unbroken gravelly voice, deadpan faces, and incredible comedic timing solidly trounce method acting and foreign actors and are reason enough to see this film.
Cameos abound, including Tobey Maguire, Mickey Rooney, and Jon Voight, just to name a few. Tom Cruise’s turn at studio mogul Les Grossman is hysterical; dancing to T-Pain’s “Low” might be the biggest stretch of his acting career, and he pulls it off with style. Several great action scenes (heavy on the pyrotechnics) play out to a fairly decent soundtrack, and this gives Tropic Thunder the impression of Platoon on speed.
Tropic Thunder is ridiculous but ridiculously fun, and it’s clear that the film enjoys not taking itself seriously. Audiences will appreciate the ludicrous ride, too.
(Editor's Note: Tropic Thunder opens officially today, Wednesday, Aug. 13. In an attempt to build box-office momentum, like the successful Pineapple Express last week, and counter-program against The Dark Knight, the studio moved up the release date for Tropic Thunder by several days. The film runs 107 minutes and is rated R.)
(Promotional poster for Tropic Thunder from DreamWorks Pictures. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)
Robert Downey, Jr.
Brandon T. Jackson
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by Molly Kenney