Movie Notes: Tropic Thunder
= 3 stars
Starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black
Directed by Ben Stiller
Actors Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) are filming a doomed Vietnam war movie, when a bright idea is had to put the actors literally in danger and film the results.
- The premise is extremely corny, but works most of the time, and Stiller uses the situation of clueless actors inadvertently starring in their own movie for real, to parody many films simultaneously. Apocalypse Now is the obvious target, from the chaotic set to some Brando-style nutty near the end (there’s even a mirror-punch), but there are also some digs at Bruce Willis, Platoon, and even The Bridge On The River Kwai. Then there’s all that peripheral, Happy Jack stuff, hilarious because it’s so wrong.
- Robert Downey Jr. (on a roll) plays Kirk Lazarus, a Russel Crowe type actor who plays a black man in the movie-within-this-movie. He’s in character throughout, and there’s one cool reveal. The best joke is that Kirk Lazarus and the Sgt. he plays in the film are nothing like Robert Downey Jr. himself, so Downey is pulling double duty, making all his lines exponentially funnier.
- Lots of celebrity cameos and name dropping, probably the best of which is Tom Cruise. I didn’t find his screaming and yelling funny, but it goes somewhere – odd, that I do admit to laughing pretty hard at.
- Unfortunately I thought the Apocalypse Now and action movie parodies would go farther. The Nick Notle character was set up for more hilarty that didn’t pay off.
- There’s a heck of a lot of cussing and insulting going on, various euphimisms for bodily functions and metaphors for telling people off. This sort of direct, gross out humor isn’t my cup of tea.
- While Robert Downey Jr. walks away with this flick, I can’t say the same for Stiller or Black, who both play pretty much the same characters they play in all their flicks – Stiller looks confused and abused, while Black is just a big buffoon.
- There are a few moments where the film devolves into surreal humor that I wish there were more of – specifically, a thing with a panda, and an odd play that Stiller’s captors make him participate in.
Tropic Thunder is very funny in a few places, but ultimately I didn’t laugh as loud as I thought I would. For me, the funniest parts were Robert Downey’s awesome performance and the satire of movies and the industry – both of which are often buried beneath crass humor and bodily function jokes. Tropic Thunder is worth seeing, but I could have waited until it hit video.