The action movie has been spoofing itself for years. Half of the time it’s no even intentional. Ben Stiller’s hilarious and surprisingly intelligent Tropic Thunder takes the genre spoof to a new extreme. Whether it’s Robert Downey Jr. going black face or blowing little children, Tropic Thunder holds nothing back, yet at the same time it often has something to say about film, stardom and Hollywood in general.
Stiller stars as Tugg Speedman, an action hero whose star is quickly fading and in need of some new life. He’s been cast in Tropic Thunder, a film the cast and crew strives to make the “greatest war movie ever.” Joining Speedman is Aussie character actor Kirk Lazurus (Robert Downey Jr.), who undergoes a pigment operation to darken his skin for his role, and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a comedy actor who made a name for himself in The Fatties – think Eddie Murphy and his many roles in The Nutty Professor and throw in some added farts. In the midst of embarking on filming, the cast inadvertently finds themselves in a real war zone, although they think it’s all part of the guerrilla style their director (Steve Coogan) was striving for.
Tropic Thunder proves just how aware Hollywood is of itself and how much everyone knows it. With all of the websites, tabloids and tabloids disguised as news media all vying for instant coverage to the stars, access to celebrities has never been easier – whether they want it or not. As a result, over time, stars build personas that make us think we know them even though the closest most of us has ever come is a chance encounter at an autograph signing. So even though there’s this certain level of personal connection, there’s really nothing more than what’s imposed upon the screen. Stiller plays off of this in a couple of different ways. First there’s flashbacks to how the cast act off-set, at least what the video cameras are there to catch. Secondly, there’s a handful of cameos from current stars playing themselves and playing off of their public-life personas. Finally, you’ve got Tom Cruise playing the exact opposite of the nice, Colgate-spakle guy he normally plays (save for pseudo-indie stuff like Magnolia) in one of the most memorable and hilarious parts of his career.
Having missed Tropic Thunder during its theatrical run, it’s become some 20 minutes longer for the director’s cut. I’m not sure of the footage that was added, but the biggest knock I have for the film is that the final act drags. By then the purpose is established, most of the gags have run their course and, like in any good battle, the time feels right to declare victory and move out. Yet it keeps going. And going. And after the odd, less-frequent gag, it goes some more.
Even still, Tropic Thunder represents one of the great comedic ensembles in a long time. One could easily single out any of a half-dozen performances. The script is also sharp and even shocking. Tropic Thunder can truly be as dumb as you want it to be or it can be as smart as you want a “dumb” movie to be. It’s your choice.
Tropic Thunder DVD Review
Tropic Thunder‘s double disc director’s cut DVD release brings it and then some. The film’s enhanced widescreen picture is sharp and vivid, bringing out the jungle locations very nicely. Likewise, the 5.1 Surround soundtrack pits the viewer in the middle of both the bullets and the fiery language. Additional audio tracks are available in Dolby 5.1 Surround French and Spanish. Subtitles are offered in English, Spanish and French.
The special features are led by two feature commentaries. The first includes director/writer/star Ben Stiller, writer Justin Theroux, producer Stuart Cornfeld, production designer Jeff Mann, director of photography John Tolland editor Greg Hayden. Stiller returns alongside co-stars Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. for the second commentary track. As one might expect, the star commentary carries a little more humour, particularly with Downey Jr. staying in character.
The DVD’s second disc is where the majority of the special features are. Short featurettes are provided for pre-production, the major battle scene, action effects, production design and casting. My favourite extras are the “Rain of Darkness” and “Dispatches From the Edge of Madness,” a pair of faux-documentaries spoofing the excellent Hearts of Darkness about the making of Apocalypse Now. Additional features include deleted and extended scenes, Tom Cruise’s make-up test, rehearsal footage, raw footage and a hilarious skit from the MTV Movie Awards.
Tropic Thunder Gallery