Reviewed by: Brian C. Johnson
|Featuring||Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Steve Coogan, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Brandon Soo Hoo, Reggie Lee, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Tobey Maguire, Mickey Rooney, Justin Theroux, Holly Weber, Jasmine Dustin, Valerie Azlynn, Yvette Nicole Brown, Anya Monzikova, Nadine Ellis, Andrea De Oliveira, Junie Hoang, Matt Levin, Jan Rooney, Danielle Engen, Trieu Tran, David Pressman, Heather Palmer, Rachel Avery, Kaylee Beth Dodson, Eric Feliciano, Elizabeth Thieme, Jason Collett, Mike Hoagland, Tri Le, Neill Skylar, Shannon Kane, Tara Paskal, Jeff Weidemann, Angela Daun|
|Producer||Stuart Cornfeld, Patrick Esposito, Eric McLeod, Ben Stiller|
“The movie they think they’re making… isn’t a movie anymore.”
Ben Stiller is back and Robert Downey Jr. is Black! In “Tropic Thunder,” Stiller proves that he still has some originality and satire in his comedic repertoire. This star-studded farce features a truly all-star cast, with minor roles going to Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise, as well as cameos by Tyra Banks, Alicia Silverstone, Lance Bass, Jon Voight, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Jason Bateman.
Stiller writes, directs, and stars in this smart movie about five actors who were having difficulty getting into character as they were filming a military biopic based upon the Vietnam memoirs of John “Four Leaf” Tayback (Nick Nolte). Dissatisfied with their performance, Tayback convinces neophyte director, Damien Cockburn, to take the actors on a real tour of duty in the jungles of Vietnam—the actors just don’t know they are being dropped into a heavily guarded section of an international heroin ring. Facing certain death, the actors: Academy Award-winner Kirk Lazarus (played by Robert Downey Jr.) who has chemically altered his skin to portray the Black sergeant; Tugg Speedman (Stiller) who is trying to make a comeback after a string of disappointing films; Jeff Portnoy (played by Jack Black) is a rising star having played a family of characters who enjoyed farting—a la the Klumps from the Nutty Professor fame; Brandon Jackson plays a rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino; and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) who is just breaking into the acting world—must fight their way out of the jungle.
This film has raised the ire of some civil rights groups for Downey’s blackface performance and from disabilities advocacy groups for Stiller’s portrayal of a mentally retarded buffoon. Lazarus will go to any length to portray his characters and refuses to get out of character until the “making of the film” interviews for the DVD are concluded. This, of course, causes problems for Chino who struggles with Lazarus’ stereotypical portrayal. Speedman’s greatest dramatic role was that of simpleton Happy Jack, who takes significant abuse and ridicule from those around him. What the critics may have missed is the satirical message about Hollywood’s portrayal of the “different.” Stiller manages to shine a sarcastic spotlight on the media industry, including merchandising, commercialism, formulaic content, celebrity excess, and the pressures of popularity and stardom.
The biggest drawback of this film is its penchant for bad language; there is no shortage of f-bombs in this movie, especially in the scenes featuring Tom Cruise, as the successful media mogul and executive producer of the “film,” Les Grossman (Cruise’s make-up is flawless; if you don’t recognize his voice, you would not know it is Cruise). The sheer number of curse words is staggering; this film will be a major bleep-fest when it hits cable syndication in a few years. There is also a moment towards the end of the film where it is presumed that Chino is involved in a gay relationship with singer Lance Bass. The blood-and-gore from the military set may be a bit over the top for some viewers.
This is the kind of film that Stiller was born to write and direct.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
According to The Hollywood Reporter magazine, “Special Olympics chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver and other leaders of disabled advocacy groups have slammed the ‘use of the r-word’ in the film ‘Tropic Thunder’ to describe people with intellectual disabilities. The advocacy coalition said it would stage a protest Monday night outside the Westwood premiere of the DreamWorks/Paramount film. The protesters also were calling for a ‘Tropic’ boycott.”