Film Review: Tropic Thunder

2008-09-07 00:00

This movie will make everyone laugh at least once, including bouncers. Even bouncers who aren’t happy. And this review will ruin all that’s good about this movie. On the poster on the far left is Jack Black and in the middle is Ben Stiller. Then on the right is Robert Downey Jnr — recognise him? The rest of the cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Nick Nolte and Tom Cruise. Yes — Cruise’s extended cameo damn near steals the show.

Satire — a cheap form of wit it may be — is nonetheless, when done well, clever and penetrative. This film is the kind of funny that offers commentary on a variety of levels, and fires off more jokes than bullets at everything in the Hollywood franchise … and no one in the industry is safe, including the actors themselves.

Tropic Thunder starts before it starts. It’s prefaced by faux trailers, which essentially serve to introduce the characters in the film. It’s disarming and confusing seeing the names Tugg Speedman (Stiller), Jeff Portnoy (Black) and Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jnr) in spoof trailers. Then starts a batch of horrific war scenes before the whole thing is diffused as being on the set of a movie. So here we go: it’s a movie about a movie.

Stiller plays an actor like Schwarzenegger and Stallone — he’s the highest-earning boxoffice star of all time, a real action hero, but useless as a real actor. Black spoofs Eddie Murphy, who has just played a number of fat people (Nutty Professor) in his previous film. And Downey Jnr takes a dig at Australian actors (Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson etc.) as an Oscar-winning actor who is known for his ability to disappear into roles and remain in character for the duration of filming, who doesn’t “break character until the DVD commentary”.

Soon after the production for the film (within the film) begins, the actors are thrust into a real-life situation and are forced to become the fighting unit they’re portraying, in order to find a way out of the jungle in one piece.

Cleverly interwoven through is a perpetual barrage of jokes bulleted at agents, directors, producers and everything else to do with films. It starts off looking like a crude spoof of war movies (Platoon and Apocalypse Now) — but past that it develops into a pretty good narrative.

Stiller may not be everyone’s first choice (he’s certainly not mine), but as the director, he’s concocted something pretty sharp. It’s worth the ticket for two things — Downey Jnr’s speech on actors who play retards in films (Tom Hanks in Forest Gump and Sean Penn in I Am Sam) and then, of course, Tom Cruise’s cameo as the fuming film mogul. It’s fantastic — were it not for the last two minutes, everyone would be none the wiser.

****

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