EZ Viewing: Tropic Thunder!
The third film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Tropic Thunder! (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.)
Tropic Thunder knocked my socks off when I first saw it! (Click here for my original review.) It’s so fearless and so, so funny, right from the first frame to the very last.
Ben Stiller (who also co-wrote and directed the film) stars as Tugg Speedman. Though he was once a hugely successful action-movie star, Tugg’s recent effort at more serious fare (“Simple Jack”) was met with disdain, so he decides to appear in the war film Tropic Thunder. The film (within the film) is an adaptation of the Vietnam experiences of the hook-handed veteran John “Four-Leaf” Tayback. Along with Tugg, the film stars the method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), the comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and the rapper Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson). This pampered assemblage of prima-donnas has trouble getting anything done, so the frustrated director (Steve Coogan) decides to drop his actors in the middle of the jungle, in an attempt to capture some “real” drama. Chaos ensues.
The cast is stupendous. The stand-out, of course, is Robert Downey Jr., portraying “a dude pretending to be a dude disguised as some other dude.” He came in for some criticism when the film was released, not only for his performance as a white actor pretending to be a black man, but also for the “full retard” speech he gives to Ben Stiller’s character. But I think that Downey Jr. is pure genius in the role – and that speech happens to be screamingly funny. The point of his performance – and, indeed, the point of the entire film – is to skewer how seriously actors take themselves. (It’s funny – not long after seeing this film for the first time, I found myself re-watching the amazing WWII mini-series Band of Brothers. It’s an astonishing mini-series. When I finished, I watched some of the special features – but after having seen Tropic Thunder, I could not take at all seriously any of the actors patting themselves on the back for how much the conditions of the shoot really rivaled the experience of really being in combat!!)
But the rest of the ensemble is also phenomenal. Stiller is great in the lead role – he’s just likable enough that you sort of root for him, even though he’s a total loony-tune. (LOVE that he likes to watch Classic Star Trek on his ipod, though!!) Jack Black is perfectly cast as Portnoy, and Jackson is absolutely hilarious as the profane (and wonderfully named) Alpha Chino. (I LOVE the fake rap songs that open the film!) Steve Coogan is great as the hapless, increasingly-desperate British director Damien Cockburn, trying to actually make a movie amidst all this insanity. It’s great seeing Jay Baruchel (Undeclared) appear as the young Kevin Sandusky. He makes the most of a small part. Speaking of making the most of a small part, I must mention Danny McBride as the pyrotechnics-obsessed technician Cody. So funny!! I can go on – there’s Nick Nolte as the crazy, drugged-up “Four-Leaf,” Bill Hader as the obsequious suck-up studio executive Rob, and of course Tom Cruise’s amazing performance as his bald, fat, and profane boss Les Grossman.
Co-written by Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, this is a smart, sharp comedy (but one that’s not afraid of a low-brow sight-gag or three!). One of my favorite films of the last few years.