If one were to look at the release schedule for the summer of 2008 and even come close to guessing that a film titled Tropic Thunder starring comedians Jack Black, Ben Stiller and a skin-pigment altered Robert Downey, Jr. would become both a box office and critical success, you may wonder about that persons sanity. Although the film was no doubt boosted by Downey’s box office smash Iron Man, ticket sales for Tropic Thunder far exceeded expectations, raking in $110 million domestically, more than covering the films $92 million budget. And with a total that high already, you just know that home video sales are going to be through the roof.
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. After ballooning costs force the studio to cancel the movie, the frustrated director refuses to stop shooting, leading his cast into the jungles of Southeast Asia, where they encounter real bad guys. Co-starring Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride and Nick Nolte and a slew of others, Tropic Thunder is as packed with laughs as it is packed with stars.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when sitting down for Tropic Thunder. I knew what the trailers promised and I knew that the buzz on the film was epic, but I still wasn’t sure if I was ready for what this film had to throw at me. While the trailers painted it as something akin to Three Amigos, it’s really only partly that, as there is a level of realism piled on top of the ridiculous action and dialogue in the film. The situations the characters are put in and the words that fall from their mouths is on a much less zany platform than what Three Amigos contained, yet at the same time the whole film maintains a sense of action and adventure about it.
Where Tropic Thunder really shined was the interactions between the actors. Whether it was between Stiller and Downey or Black and Baruchel, the quick dialogue exchanges and hilarious visuals kept on coming from beginning to end. Downey’s performance especially was the highlight of the film, as it straddled the line of inappropriate on several occasions. What helped keep it grounded and not come off as obscene or too racist in one direction was Jackson’s involvement in the piece, which frequently had the two characters clashing. While it was definitely edgy, the performance never crossed any kind of uncomfortable line and remained hilarious and entertaining throughout. Definitely a highlight of Tropic Thunder and I doubt the film would have been as entertaining without the character.
Realistically you don’t watch an action/comedy for the action per say, but the stunts, gun fire and explosions in this film were all quite enthralling. Seems odd to say about a film largely dependent upon its comedy, but with the help of McBride’s character we were treated to some simultaneously hilarious and massive explosions. While the fights could be seen as formulaic, there was still a great deal of action to take in at the end with the flamethrower and torrent of bullets flying everywhere.
It seems that 2008 was the year of the action comedy as Pineapple Express saw release in theaters with a similar setup of hilarity mixed with explosions and fire fights. Oddly both films had Danny McBride as either a weapons happy or C4 happy individual, so the similarities aren’t just in the genre. On top of McBride’s performance we have the hilarious Tom Cruise role that will no doubt go down as the other scene-stealer in the film. With the absolutely foul language that his character spews forth, it’s hard not to be doubled up with laughter every time the hairy visage of Les Grossman appears on screen. Everyone involved with this film should be given a medal as there wasn’t a single performance that didn’t hit is mark or deliver.
Overall Tropic Thunder isn’t a die-hard blockbuster of any kind, but between the fake trailers that precede it and the hilarious story and dialogue that accompany every frame of the film, Tropic Thunder comes Highly Recommended. It’s not the easiest film to review simply because there isn’t much to review as the film is pretty by-the-numbers as far as plots go (even if it is a quirky one), but it’s the ride that makes it so enjoyable to watch.
The Blu-ray edition of Tropic Thunder comes housed in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with a cover that is rather unassuming and boasts none of the stars faces (even the rear cover looks more like a war film cover than a comedy, which I guess is part of the joke). Disc art is a standard grey wash with the usual Paramount inserts included inside. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and overall the presentation is adequate and easy to use and enjoy. The big bonus on this release is that this is the unrated edition of the film, but having never seen the theatrical cut, I cannot comment on the differences between the two although there is a thirteen minute difference between the two cuts.
Video for this film comes in an AVC encoded 2.35:1 aspect ratio and overall the transfer is pretty nice. There are solid black levels, plenty of detail and clarity in close ups, although occasionally we get a zoom in that doesn’t look quite as clean and clear as it could have been. Not sure what causes this as it’s inconsistent and isn’t always an issue, but in the end it’s hardly anything to mar ones enjoyment of the film. From the explosions to the close-ups of a pigment changed Downey, the picture on this one never falters.
Audio for this release comes in the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 variety and whether it’s the action packed opening or the helicopters and gun fire that fill the speakers around the room from beginning to end, Tropic Thunder is as enjoyable to watch as it is to listen to. Also included are French and Spanish DD5.1 tracks as well as English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
Starting off in the special features area we first receive a pair of commentaries. First is the Filmmaker Commentary with Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Stuart Cornfeld, Jeff Man, John Toll and Greg Hayden and the second is the Cast Commentary with Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. While both tracks are a riot to listen to, I enjoyed the cast commentary just a tad bit more due to the absolute insanity that the three stars exhibited throughout it. Constantly cracking jokes about themselves, each other or the film, the cast commentary is a great deal bit more focused on the humor than the filmmaker one which delves into the production of the film more. Both are highly entertaining listens and I heartily recommend both if you have the time.
Moving onto the extras (which are almost all in high definition), we find that most of the featurettes here are of the short variety. First is “Before the Thunder” (4:54), “The Hot LZ” (6:26), “Blowing Shit Up” (6:18), “Designing the Thunder” (7:31), and “The Cast of Tropic Thunder” (22:12), all of which delve into specific areas of the film’s production. Although short, they’re all worth watching and the Cast pieces especially talk about the strengths of each of the actors and why they were chosen. Next we have a “Make-Up Test of Tom Cruise” (1:13 – intro, 1:34 video) that shows the actor dancing in some non-final make-up for his role in the film.
“Rain of Madness” (30:01) is a fake documentary that profiles the making of the movie Tropic Thunder inside of Tropic Thunder. A series of “Deleted Scenes” are up next, with an Intro by Ben Stiller and Editor Greg Hayden (1:56), as well as two deleted scenes (with optional commentary), two extended scenes (with optional commentary) and an Alternate Ending (3:30) for the film that works in some more of McConaughey’s character. “Full Mags” wraps up our movie-focused extras with an Intro (0:53) and the actual video itself “Choose a Dude” (11:14). The “Full Mags” segment is basically raw footage with improvisation going on between the actors. Sadly there is no blooper reel, although goofs are shown throughout all of the featurettes on the set, so you’ll see a few at least. Our final extra is “MTV Movie Awards” (4:06, 480p), which is absolutely hilarious to watch. Between a kid taunting Downey that Christian Bale could take him, the whole video was a riot to see and I’m surprised it didn’t make bigger waves when it originally aired.
Overall Tropic Thunder is a hilarious and fantastic film that is accompanied by a terrific Blu-ray release. Like the film, this one comes Highly Recommended.
Tropic Thunder arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on November 18th.