Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Ben Stiller, Jack
Black, Robert Downey Jr., Steve Coogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Brandon T.
Jackson, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte
Director: Ben Stiller
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: November 18, 2008
“Why am I in this movie? Maybe I just knew I had to represent, because they had one good part in it for a black man and they gave it Crocodile Dundee!”
“Pump your brakes, kid. That man’s a national treasure.”
It’s been a long, long while since I’ve seen a single comedy that I instantly found to be one of the funniest movies of all time, with the sole exception of Hot Fuzz. And though I went into Tropic Thunder expecting many laughs, I never expected to find myself laughing ferociously from beginning to end. When you have to see a movie again to catch moments you missed the first time as a result of laughing so hard, you know you’ve found a comedy classic.
And yet, the movie itself is flat out terrific on multiple levels. The action comedy movie has been dead in the water for sometime now, but this year marked the return of the sub-genre with both this and the stoner comedy Pineapple Express. While I enjoyed that movie, Tropic Thunder is the absolute real deal, where action and laughs literally find themselves in the same scenes.
In addition, the movie is also a satire of Hollywood. It’s also the best one yet as far as I’m concerned. Ben Stiller, returning to the director’s chair for the first time since Zoolander, and his co-writers (Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen) have crafted a skewering of the movie industry that’s as dead-on as can possibly be.
How many movies have been able to pull off such a difficult juggling act? I can’t even think of another movie that has executed a balance more successfully. What’s more, Tropic Thunder is downright flawless in all areas.
The movie centers on the disastrous filming of a massive-budget Vietnam War movie, titled “Tropic Thunder”. Every possible thing that can go wrong is going wrong. Millions of dollars have already been lost, and to say that the producer back in Hollywood is enraged is something of an understatement.
Problem number one lies with the odd trio of high profile actors headlining the film. One time action movie phenomenon Tugg Speedman (Stiller) is looking for a respectable comeback following an embarrassing turn as mentally challenged farm boy. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), usually typecast in flatulent-themed comedies, can’t seem to shake off a bad drug addiction. And Australian mega-method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) has caused controversy by going to extremes to change his skin color and play an African-American soldier.
But a great deal of the blame has been tossed in the way of director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), a first timer who can’t seem to direct the actors or control the set if his life depended on it. With the production on the verge of being shut down, technical advisor Sgt. Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) suggests an intense strategy to the director. The plan is to drop the actors miles away from the set and in the actual jungle, shoot the movie guerilla style and make it look more authentic.
Once on their own (following a most remarkably sick sight gag) the actors, which also include rookie Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) and hip-hop/energy drink mogul Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), start acting out various scenes while unknowingly entering a real war zone. Of course, they mistake real gunfire for staged action set pieces. One of the funniest elements of the movie is the fact that it takes forever for the actors to realize they’re not really making a movie, which sounds like a tired running gag but is actually hilarious when you see it played out in the film.
With the Judd Apatow factory pretty much dominating the comedy genre, it’s damn refreshing to see a hilarious piece of work come from another gifted comedic mind. No disrespect to the Apatow clan, but it’s nice to allow other comedic talents make noteworthy, sidesplitting comedies. And to be honest, I laughed more during Tropic Thunder than any of the Apatow movies, which is really saying a lot.
Though he’s no stranger to the director’s chair, this is hands down Ben Stiller’s finest hour behind the camera. Right from the very beginning of the film, which is a hilarious commercial tie in followed by three mock trailers showcasing the latest projects of the three lead actors, Stiller keeps the film tight, funny and relentlessly entertaining.
And every filmmaking aspect, from cinematography to sound mixing, is at the highest possible caliber. One doesn’t normally expect such qualities from a comedy. However, the movie takes full advantage of its huge budget at every possible turn, and it shows.
I was incredibly surprised by how every single performer in the movie turns in some marvelous work. Stiller hasn’t been this funny in years, and his performance reminds us that he’s a really gifted comic actor. The entire supporting cast is on top of their game, especially Nick Nolte and Steve Coogan, resulting in one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in any comedy.
But there’s no mystery that the standout in the movie is Robert Downey, Jr. What a year it has been for the gifted actor. To go from playing Tony Stark to playing a white actor pretending to be black (and very convincingly, I might add) beautifully illustrates Downey’s ever expanding acting range. Every time he utters a sentence in the movie, it results in big laughs.
The movie also features two surprise cameos by a couple of high-profile stars, and they are performances for the history books as far as I’m concerned. I won’t spoil the details, except to say that when one of these two guys started to bust a hip-hop groove, I nearly killed myself from laughing so hard. I also had that kind of reaction when this same actor delivered some unforgettably profane monologues.
Tropic Thunder is a rare comedy movie experience. For a movie to induce so many gut-busting laughs, while at the same time providing kick-ass action, razor sharp satire and all around spectacular production value is something of an accomplishment. I’ve really got to hand it to Ben Stiller, because he delivered what is easily the funniest movie of 2008!
“I don’t read a script, script reads me.”
This release from Dreamworks boasts an incredibly solid anamorphic picture, adding up to one of the year’s best looking releases. The picture quality glows from beginning to end, with amazing color and sharp detail accompanying every scene. The jungle set pieces really shine, especially in the green color display. Nothing but clean, crisp, solid anamorphic quality!
“MOTHER NATURE JUST PISSED HER PANTSUIT!”
Having seen the movie in the theater and blown away by the sound quality, I was expecting a most spectacular 5.1 sound mix…and that’s exactly what I got. The movie’s got so much working for it in the sound department that it’s hard to go wrong. The action sequences really shine, as does music on the soundtrack and dialogue delivery, as well. I can definitely say that the use of a T-Pain song midway in the movie is a standout moment!
“Welcome to the goodie room!”
This 2-Disc Unrated Director’s Cut release from Dreamworks carries one of the best extras lineup I’ve seen all year. Disc One features two commentary tracks; one with Ben Stiller, screenwriter Justin Theroux, producer Stuart Cornfield, production designer Jeff Mann, cinematographer John Toll and editor Greg Hayden. The second commentary is a most funny listen. We’ve got Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr. (still in character!). His character in the movie claims that he doesn’t drop character until he does a DVD commentary, and he wasn’t lying! Lastly, we get several Paramount/Dreamworks bonus trailers and PSA.
On Disc Two, we get a superb number of extras. There are five featurettes; “Before the Thunder”, “The Hot LZ”, “Blowing Sh*t Up”, “Designing the Thunder” and “The Cast of Tropic Thunder”. Next, we have the absolute best extra of the bunch, a 30-minute fake documentary titled Rain of Madness. Much like Hearts of Darkness, it takes a look at the making of the movie within the movie, hosted by Jan Jurgen (actually screenwriter Justin Theroux), a Werner Herzog-like documentarian. It’s a perfect and hilarious companion piece to the movie. In addition, we get another fake documentary hosted by Jurgen, the 11-part “Dispatches From the Edge”. Rounding out the extras are Deleted Scenes, Extended Scenes and an Alternate Ending (which includes an intro from Stiller and editor Greg Hayden, as well optional audio commentary), a Make-Up test, a hilarious bit from the MTV Movie Awards featuring Stiller, Black and Downey Jr., Full Mags (Extended Improv sessions) and Video Rehearsals.
The funniest movie of the year is also one of the absolute best all around DVDs of the year! Tropic Thunder is a newfound comedy classic in my book, and one I’ll be eagerly revisiting frequently. Laughs and action are in monumental supply, and this 2-Disc Director’s Cut edition is without question a must have release!