Setting Hollywood directly in its sites, Tropic Thunder crashed into theatres over the summer, easily becoming one of the most talked-about movies of the season. Whether it’s the satirical look at Hollywood , incredible comedic performances by both Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise, or the pointed humor dashed throughout, Tropic Thunder was a refreshingly non-PC tour de force. But, as one could expect, the movie did find itself the center of one of the more misguide controversies to hit a recent Hollywood movie, which I’ll go into later. But what Ben Stiller, the director and co-writer of Tropic Thunder, achieves here is a great here is a great little movie. It just slaps Hollywood right in the face and makes it utterly hilarious. So, let’s get the synopsis out of the way and then get to the movie.
Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. lead an ensemble cast in Tropic Thunder, an action comedy about a group of self-absorbed actors who set out to make the most expensive war film. Ben Stiller plays pampered action superstar Tugg Speedman, who is cast in the biggest, most expensive war movie ever produced. He sets out to Southeast Asia with a “Who’s Who” of celebrity co-stars. They include Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), an intense, three-time Oscar-winning actor; Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), star of the popular gross-out comedy franchise “The Fatties”; multi-platinum hip-hop-star-turned-entrepreneur-turned-actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson); and first-timer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). Soon after the production begins the actors are thrown 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.
What makes this work is that Stiller has really found a great mix of characters for this movie. It’s something we’ve seen before in Hollywood, such an eclectic cast coming together for a big movie, and Ben Stiller makes it work. And considering the meta-comedy with the chosen cast, I’m surprised that it works so effectively. Just consider the cast for a moment. Jack Black starring as an actor jaded from his low-brow comedy movies. Downey Jr., playing a prestigious actor. That right there must hit a little close to home for these two actors. Stiller, cast as an aging action hero, plays the part perfectly. I don’t know how Stiller managed to get this group of actors together, but he did an absolutely perfect job with casting. Ben Stiller really made something great here. He made an ensemble comedy that acts as both a spoof of Hollywood and the ultimate inside joke. But there’s also plenty of character to be found in here. Each character gets fully realized from beginning to end, which really helps in selling the movie, especially since there’s a pile of character-specific actions that propel the film further and further forward.
The movie manages to set its tone early on, before the movie actually starts. Before the movie begins, we’re presented with a host of fake trailers and theatre ads, each involving one of the main characters from the movie. We see Stiller’s latest big-screen blockbuster, Downey Jr.’s latest arthouse film, Black’s latest lowbrow comedy, and a product ad by another one of the characters. Not only are these trailers and ads unbelievably hilarious, providing us with a quick backdrop on each character from the movie, they also give a hint into why they end up working on the movie within Tropic Thunder.
Now, every actor manages to bring their A-game to the movie, but there’s two performances in particular that really stand out above the rest. One, from Downey Jr., was obvious from the movie’ marketing, but who would have thought Tom Cruise would end up being one of the more popular aspects of the movie. His take as an overly hairy, overweight movie executive is absolutely hilarious, and reminds us that outside of all the controversy from his personal life, this guy is an unbelievably talented actor, no question. Despite Cruise’s show-stopping role, it’s Downey Jr.’s really playing the most complex role of the movie. Sure, all the characters have this skewed take on reality in one form or another, but Downey Jr.’s character is the furthest gone of all, and Downey Jr. excels in this role. His take on the character’s skewed perception of reality is so convincing that when we see him outside the make-up for the Tropic Thunder movie-within-a-movie, it’s actually a little bit startling. Downey Jr. is utterly convincing in this role, and is truly a highlight. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t get some sort of award recognition for his word during the awards season.
And while the work of Downey Jr. and Cruise got Tropic Thunder a lot of attention, there was a small controversy that ended up garnering this film some negative attention. Many disability advocacy groups were upset over one of the faux films in Tropic Thunder, namely one called Simple Jack. Several advocacy groups were concerned over its portrayal of mental retardation, called “intellectual disabilities” by said disability advocacy groups. As well-meaning as these groups are , what this controversy overlooked was the fact that Tropic Thunder does not make fun of mental retardation, but instead makes fun of the actors who use this material as fodder for acclaim. However, the damage had already been done, with the Simple Jack trailer removed from the movie. While Simple Jack still plays an integral role in the movie’s plot, any mention of Simple Jack was removed from the film’s promotion. The effects of this controversy can even be seen on this DVD release, but we’ll leave that to the DVD-section of this review. It’s a shame, too, because this film really brilliantly riffs on how far actors will go for acclaim. It’s an absolutely scatching and ballsy move by Stiller, and absolutely hilarious in all its non-PC glory.
Please note that the Tropic Thunder: Director’s Cut is roughly 13 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, bringing the movie to an even two-hour running time. The added footage ranges from minor additions to new scenes, but doesn’t affect the flow of the movie whatsoever.
Tropic Thuder ended up being one of the surprise hits of the summer, managing to muster a solid amount of press leading up the premiere, and rightfully so. It’s one of the funniest movies of the year, with an unbelievable cast and hilariously meta story. Now, this is a heavy “R” movie, so be prepared for some of the un-PC and sometimes offensive dialogue and situations the movie finds itself in, but, still, it’s somewhat refreshing to see a movie really go for it. We find ourselves too restricted by the modern-day PC movement, and it’s encouraging and refreshing to see a movie as mainstream as Tropic Thunder really go for the jugular. I guarantee that whatever you may have heard of this movie, particularly from some of the negative press is may have garnered, couldn’t be further from the truth. Tropic Thunder is a hilariously refreshing satire on Hollywood , one that comes Highly Recommended.
Dreamworks and Paramount Home Entertainment has released Tropic Thunder: 2-Disc Director’s Cut in a sleek DVD release, with a nice cardboard slipcase and a transparant DVD amaray case. Looks good on the shelf, no question. Now, loking inside, the a udio and video for the release are pretty great, but not perfect. There is some minor noise and pixilation, but nothing major and barely noticeable. The picutres looks really clean, actually. The audio is just as nice, using complete use of surround sound technology. Everything looks and sounds great. Not perfect, mind you, but just about as perfect as DVD can get.
The extras? Well, if you’re picking up the two-disc release of Tropic Thunder, you should be very pleased with what you get. Two audio commentaries kick off things, both of which are entertaining to listen to in their own rights. Stiller spearheads both tracks, one of which is focused on production and the other a mroe jokey affair with some castmates. After the commentary we get a heavy load of featurettes looking at the production of the movie. “Before the Thunder” looks at pre-production, “The Hot LZ” loosk at the battle footage from the movie’s opening. “Blowing Shit Up” looks at the special effects work supervised by FX supervisor Mike Meinardus. “Designing the Thunder” looks at the production design of the movie and the seemingly countless problems it faced. Rehearsal footage and Tom Cruise’ make-up test is included. It’s a pretty good look at the production aspect of the movie, though not as indepth as it could have been.
Much like the movie itself, the DVD also indulges on the movie-within-a-movie aspect of Tropic Thunder by giving us some faux documentaryies about the making of the Tropic Thunder movie-within-a-movie. First up is “Rain of Madness,” a 30-minute faux documentary that chronicles the failure of the epic Tropic Thunder movie. “Dispatches from the Edge of Madness” provides more obversations on the behind the scenes turmoil. The DVD wraps up with more footage from the movie, including deleted scenes, extended scenes, the movie’s original ending, improv scenes, and an MTV Movie Awards skit, trailers, and cast bios. It may not seem like a lot of extras, but, believe me, this disc is quite loaded.
A hilarious movie and a great DVD release, Tropic Thunder is one of the most enjoyable movies of the year. It’s probably be one of the few Hollywood injokes that actually managed to go really mainstream. The cast is great, the performances -particularly by Downey Jr. and Cruise – are excellent, and the comedy keeps coming fast and furious. Paramount and Dreamworks Home Entertainment has provided a great release for the movie, with great extras that look at the movie and the movie-within-a-movie. Tropic Thunder: 2-Disc Director’s Cut is a great release, and probably one of the ballsiest movies of the year. It revels in its non-PC charm in a surprisingly refreshing way. A solid DVD release for one the best movies of the year, Tropic Thunder: 2-Disc Director’s Cut comes Highly Recommended to own.
Tropic Thunder: 2-Disc Director’s Cut hits DVD and Blu-ray on November 18th, 2008.