Thursday, 8 January 2009

Tropic Thunder

Lowdown: A war movie production turns into a war.
Ben Stiller’s Zoolander is, in my book, one of the better comedies ever. When Tropic Thunder came out, another comedy directed by Stiller, I was looking forward to watching it with great anticipation. It’s not only Stiller; it’s the premises of a tough guy macho war movie featuring Stiller, Jack Black, and a black Robert Downey Jr in the leading roles. It sounded ridiculously good!
As it turned out, Tropic Thunder did not live up to my expectations. Partly because it was different to what I have expected it to be: it’s a film that does Hollywood the way Zoolander did the world of modelling, i.e., it’s a film that ridicules Hollywood; it’s not a war film per se but rather a film about making a war film; and it’s not as good as Zoolander in the laughing department. It is fairly funny, though.
As Tropic Thunder starts we are introduced to its key actors: Stiller, an actor that made his name in a series of silly action sequels that has deteriorated over time, then tried to do a serious film about a retard that totally flopped; Jack Black, an actor who made his name in a series of films featuring fat people and farts; and Downey Jr, a serious award winning Aussie actor, obviously tailored after Russell Crowe, who gets so deep inside his characters he went through a special pigmentation process to play the role of a black guy. Together, they act in a war film based upon a real Vietnam War story, Tropic Thunder, written by a guy whose both hands have been amputated during Vietnam commando action called Four Leaf (Nick Nolte).
This leading trio is hard for the film director, Steve Coogan, to control. Stiller is too stupid, Black is a drug addict, and Downey Jr is the only genuine actor but he’s too deep in his role and can’t distinguish real life from film. Oh, and we also have Matthew McConaughey as a Nintendo Wii player who also happens to be Stiller’s agent and whose biggest concern is to ensure Stiller’s contract guaranteeing him TIVO access is followed to the letter. The filming goes wrong and a lot of money is wasted, putting lots of pressure on Coogan from producer Tom Cruise (featuring heavy makeup to make him look fat, bold, ugly and Jewish).
The decision is to change the course of the film. Instead of a big time production, send the actors to a jungle adventure on their own with basic script guidance only, and make a film out of candid camera work and cameras placed up trees. The actors are dropped off a helicopter with their director, who immediately steps on an old landmine and gets shred to pieces. The actors are too stupid and/or too much in a world of their own to act on this, so they believe the explosion was a trick meant to get them into their roles. They start acting out the script while on their own, and when they cross the border and confront a very real drug militia they engage it as a part of their script. If you thought things have been crazy thus far then you ain’t seen nothing yet…
Indeed, Tropic Thunder is a crazy film, most notable for its cast full of celebrities. The bold Tom Cruise joke is quickly overused, but Downey Jr manages to provide a hell of a performance yet again: if I didn’t know it was him I would have been sure he was black; and later on he even does a good Aussie impression. Through his collection of excellent performances since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Mr Jr is quickly shaping up to be one of those actors I really look up to. And last, but not least: I can’t believe I’m saying it but Tropic Thunder actually features a good performance from Jack Black.
Best scene: Well, it’s not really a scene, but the Blu-ray supplementals include a “documentary” (or rather, a mockumentary) on the making of Tropic Thunder. Entitled Rain of Madness, it is obviously a joke on behalf on Heart of Darkness, a real documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now. The joke works…
Real best scene: Stiller's retard comedy failed, explains a Downey Jr talking the black folk talk, because he went full retard. No one else went all the way: Hoffman's Rain Man was still pretty clever, Hanks' Gump wouldn't have been a war hero if he was a full retard. The scene echoes quite well the type of movie world satire Tropic Thunder is full of.
Technical assessment: I believe the picture on this Blu-ray is rather mediocre for the format. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, although nice, is also far from delivering all it can.
Overall: Funny, but too crazy for its own good. 3 out of 5 stars.

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