Tropic Thunder (2008)

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Director: Ben Stiller

Cast: Jeff Kahn as Snooty Waiter - Fatties Trailer, Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, Anthony Ruivivar as Platoon Sergeant Shot in Head - Hot LZ, Jack Black as Jeff Portnoy - Hot LZ, Jay Baruchel as Kevin Sandusky - Hot LZ, Brandon T. Jackson as Alpa Chino - Hot LZ, Ben Stiller as Tugg Speedman - Hot LZ, Eric Winzenried as Chopper Pilot - Hot LZ, Steve Coogan as Damien Cockburn - Vietnam Crew, Valerie Azlynn as Damien's Assistant - Vietnam Crew, Matt Levin as Cameraperson - Vietnam Crew, David Pressman as First Assistant Director - Vietnam Crew, Amy Stiller as Script Supervisor - Vietnam Crew, Danny McBride as Cody - Vietnam Crew, Dempsey Silva as Special Effects Assistant - Vietnam Crew

When an all-star Vietnam film is put in the hands of a first time
British director, the results are an ego-dominated shambles that is a
month behind schedule after only five days of shooting. Director Damien
Cockburn makes a decision that the experiences of "Four Leaf" Tayback
will be best captured on film by dropping the basic cast in the jungle
and forcing them to experience as close to reality as possible while
catching it all on camera. Sadly when Cockburn is killed by a mine mere
minutes into the mission, the cast are left in the middle of a
dangerous jungle, not entirely sure of whether this is real or not.

When I went to see this film I hadn't expected it to be much more than
a basic comedy but the reality is that this is a pretty smart satire of
Hollywood and movie acting that also produces silly laughs one would
expect from a Ben Stiller film. The "black-face" issue has been
mentioned in regards the film walking a fine line between being funny
or offensive but to me the bigger tightrope act is between being funny
and being stupidly silly. Here and there it gets very close to falling
over that line (eg all of Tom Cruise's stuff) but if you are with it
then it manages to just about stay on the right side of the line. The
daft plot allows for micky-taking in regards big studio action movies,
spoilt actors, bad projects, studio executives and so on – it is never
sensible but it is mostly very funny. I think the film doesn't always
succeed though because it sort of straddles two stools and those who
want one or the other will have reservations while the smaller number
who recognise both stools will perhaps see flaws on both. To explain
that better I should probably say what I mean rather than referring to
furniture and backsides. See as a satire it is undeniably broad and
clumsy with the digs being made in clever but still quite obvious ways
and you do have plenty of laughs that are knock-about that don't sit
with those looking for smart satire. On the other hand you have those
who love the silliness of it but don't really "get" it when it is
trying to make digs even if they laugh their heads off at a character
eating blood in the misunderstanding of it being a special effect.
Somehow though it just about works by just going all out for it and
things like the racial issues, anti-Semitic stuff etc all hang together

The cast are a big part of making it work. Stiller is solid throughout
and works his character as well as he makes fun of him. Downey Jr is
very impressive as the deep-method actor who produces the controversy.
Black is a necessary evil but at least his character's drug addiction
makes him of value within the satire even if his performance is still a
fat guy shouting. I liked the support from both Baruchel and Jackson,
who held their own alongside the starry cast. The rest of the cast
include solid turns from Nolte, Coogan, Maguire (great superhero movie
reference), Pollack and others are all in the shadow of a great Tom
Cruise who to me is the one we should be talking about when it comes to
controversy tightropes. He is always about an inch away from being
embarrassingly silly but yet he pulls it off.

Tropic Thunder is not a perfect film by any means. The satire and the
knock-about humour don't compliment one another that well but somehow
it all works and the majority of the risky moves are pulled off even if
it is not quite as clever as it would like to be. To some it will be
the stupidest thing they have ever seen, to others – the funniest; the
truth is somewhere in the middle and it is enjoyable for it.

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