Tropic Thunder’s crudely keen lampoon
“Tropic Thunder” works because it is a Big Hollywood Movie, with Big Hollywood Actors, poking fun directly at the Hollywood movie-making machine. Unlike the latest teenage sex farce or doper comedy, which remain popular despite their seemingly outdated and worn-out themes, “Tropic Thunder’s” satirical humor bites with a freshly acute sense of its own relevancy.
Director and star Ben Stiller knows a thing or two about the movie business, and he brings along a talented cast to help him pungently parody many aspects of filmmaking. Special emphasis is placed on the ego-driven self-absorption of its often insecure and wildly neurotic actors.
While filming a big budget Vietnam film, a desperate director (Steve Coogan), prompted by a war veteran upon whose memoirs the film is based (Nick Nolte), decides to add some much needed realism and shoot the film guerrilla-style by abandoning his pampered actors in the brutal jungle.
Thus Stiller, as a washed-up action hero seeking cred, Jack Black as a bleached-blond comedian known mainly for flatulence-laden comedies, and Oscar winning method actor played by Robert Downey, Jr. must fend for themselves. When the group (which includes Brandon T. Jackson and Kevin Sandusky) stumbles into a very real heroin factory run by unamused drug lords, the films (theirs and ours) take on a much needed sense of real danger. Think “The Three Amigos” for adults and you will get an idea of where this spoof is headed. The action keeps moving, and the production values are surprisingly high for a film of this genre.
“Tropic Thunder,” for all its potshots and potential for offensiveness, stops just short of going over the top. Downey Jr. in blackface is too smart and sincere to be considered racist, especially with Jackson’s character along to keep him real. Initial moments of graphic violence teeter on the brink of Vietnam War mocking, but quickly subside. There’s a bit of a ruckus involving Stiller portraying a “retard,” culled from one of his character’s box-office flops. The bit will likely offend mainly those to whom the very mention of the word is unacceptable.
A primary reason to see this film, if you dare, is to witness Tom Cruise’s turn as a profane, hairy-armed, paunchy studio exec that quite simply is jaw-droppingly memorable. Even his detractors will admit his fiery, unexpected performance here trumps a lifetime of Oprah couch-pouncing.
To some degree, it could be argued that “Tropic Thunder” proves Stiller has more potential as a director than as an actor. Indeed, his biggest mistake here is in casting himself as a woefully unbelievable (despite a chiseled upper body) action star-what, was Steven Seagal too busy?
As usual, the R-rated content doesn’t necessarily contribute to the film’s biggest laughs. If that material alone isn’t enough to keep you away, then “Tropic Thunder” has enough “insider” humor to make serious film fans bust a gut.
Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material.