If films like Platoon and Saving Private Ryan tug at one’s heartstrings, Tropic Thunder will have audiences in tears … of laughter.
In what can only be described as a satirical look at Hollywood and filmmaking in general, Tropic Thunder manages to poke fun at everything, and at times, even itself. It’s a movie worth repeated viewing, if only to enjoy the performances and the references one may have missed the first time around.
When action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and newcomer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) set out to shoot “the greatest war movie ever,” problems arise when the film goes over budget and in-fighting threatens to take over the process. The studio head, Les Grossman (Tom Cruise), threatens to shut down production if things aren’t back on track.
The cast and crew are dumped in the middle of the jungle for a more “guerrilla-style” feel to the film. When the group of actors encounter real war situations, it’s a battle to save their lives, not to mention the film.
There is more than enough praise to go around, as the actors are brilliant. Stiller, who wears three hats in this film — actor, writer and director — does a superb job in all aspects.
He plays a worn-out action star, similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, who has fallen off the map after a brief stint at serious acting. While Stiller isn’t an actor one would expect to pull off such a role, he delivers all the same.
The movie would perhaps be nothing without Downey, whose character, an award-winning Australian method actor, is so into his own work that he undergoes surgery to play an African-American sergeant. Much of the humor that arises is based on Kirk’s refusal to break character throughout the film.
Then there’s Black’s character, a drug-addicted comedian. Black, known to play very similar roles in other productions, pulls off self-depreciation with ease. It borders on absurdity at times, but one would expect that, given the actor.
While the three names get most of the spotlight, Tropic Thunder wouldn’t be nearly as funny without all the supporting actors.
Baruchel’s character is the only sane person in the group. Jackson’s Alpa Chino (the name is a great joke in itself) is the actual African-American on set, constantly offended by Kirk’s “performance.” Nick Nolte (48 Hrs.) is the crazy Vietnam veteran whose book is the inspiration for the movie within the movie.
However, no one surprises more than Cruise. One can easily criticize his personal antics, but his role in this film is like nothing anyone has ever seen (or heard) from him before.
The humor, which combines parody with originality, makes the film better. Fans of the war genre will catch nods to favorites, and fans of film in general will find some great lines to toss around.
The film is funny even before it begins, with an array of faux trailers that set the tone early on. Scenes with Kirk and Alpa, as well as any scene with Les, are instantly hilarious, based on presence alone.
Two scenes that immediately come to mind are a discussion pertaining to playing a mentally challenged character and a moment when the characters confuse reality with their script.
The many celebrity cameos are a welcome addition and only add to the scope of the film.
There are rarely any dull moments in its almost two-hour running time, with the jokes coming from every angle. It’s not always the witty one-liner; there are plenty of sight gags, running gags, in-jokes and even some slapstick thrown in for good measure. Those not accustomed to excessive gore might want to avoid this until perhaps its DVD release, though it’s mostly exaggerated for a humorous effect.
Tropic Thunder is a film that could’ve leaned heavily on a select group of moviegoers, but thanks to its smart writing and excellent performances, it’s a film that warrants a second, perhaps even third, viewing.