Movie Review: Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder

From the “trailers” that open the film to the dancing credits … I laughed.
For all its flaws — a few flat jokes, silly plot and a few wasted performances — Tropic Thunder is still the funniest movie I’ve seen this year.
And I’m only slightly amazed that Judd Apatow (the man behind Superbad, Pineapple Express, Knocked Up and just about every other successful comedy in the past three years) is nowhere to be seen in this one … at least not that I know of. Tropic Thunder succeeds with its parody of actors who take themselves too seriously.
In the spirit of The Three Amigos, Tropic Thunder is about five actors thrown into a real Vietnamese jungle facing real drug lords … only they think it’s all part of the plot.
Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is the star of the movie they’re making, and Speedman’s out to make up for a string of bad films (Scorcher 2 through 5 and Simple Jack) with a strong performance here. Therefore, he’s completely committed to the script, even when the other actors start to realize the cameras aren’t rolling.
Those “other actors” are led by Robert Downey Jr., who — outside of Heath Ledger, if he was alive — is having the best year imaginable in Hollywood. Downey’s Kirk Lazarus pokes fun at “serious” actors like Russell Crowe and Collin Farrell, and he’s so enamored into his role, he pigments his skin, dons a wig and changes his pupils to portray a 1970s blaxpoitation-era soldier for the war film.
Downey carries the movie and saves it at the times you think it’s going to bog down into plot.
Jack Black’s Jeff Portnoy is a heroin-obsessed comedian and star of “The Fatties, Fart 2” … and maybe I’m just a huge fan of Black and expected more, but I thought his character was A) not that funny and B) not that necessary. Like I said, I expect more from Black, so maybe I’m biased.
Brandon T. Jackson is Alpa Chino (the name along pokes fun at the rap culture’s obsession with Scarface), a rapper who’s known for being a ladies man, but has his own issues with Downey’s portrayal of a black man and his own sexuality.
Apatow veteran Jay Baruchel is Kevin Sandusky, the only straight-laced actor of the bunch and a welcome level head amid the egos.
The movie works when it’s mericlessly attacking Hollywood — grilling agents, pointing out what’s really important to actors, blasting the rap industry. Plus, the cameos and bit roles played by some of Hollywood’s biggest names … a few who the film makes fun of, are great. I just won’t give up who’s in it … it’s part of the humor if you don’t know.

I’ve been to four movies this summer, and I think I’m 4-for-4 as far as having a good time. Tropic Thunder is Ben Stiller’s best work since Zoolander … and the funniest film this year.

Use of the word ‘retard’: I’ll comment on the theme of making fun of people with mental disabilities, only because I wrote a short article on Arc of Lee County’s objection to the film.
In Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller’s character Tugg Speedman is out to make up for a role many thought was the worst movie ever — Simple Jack. In it, Speedman played a mentally slow country boy, complete with buck teeth, bowl cut and overalls.
There’s a part in the film where Speedman and Downey’s Lazarus discuss why the movie failed, and Lazarus explains it’s because Stiller “went full retard.” He points out that actors who succeeded playing people with disabilities — Tom Hanks in Forest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man — played people who were socially slow, but they didn’t go full out. Actors like Sean Penn, who went “all the way” in “I am Sam,” didn’t fare quite so well. I’ll argue that Leo Dicaprio’s portrayal in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” throws a wrench into that line of thinking, but oh well.
I think the groups have a right to be upset with the liberal use of the word “retard,” because it was unnecessary, and there’s a part in the film where Downey is offended by Alpa Chino’s use of the “N-word,” so you’d think the film makers would have realized they were doing the same thing.
It wasn’t enough to take away from the movie for me, but I do feel it was a bad choice … even if they were simply pointing out the success actors have for playing people with disabilities.


4 thoughts on “Movie Review: Tropic Thunder

  1. Personally, I wish Jack Black would go back to making “family-friendly”, PG-rated movies like “School of Rock” and “Nacho Libre”. He’s a favorite amongst children I know, and has hosted the Nick Kids’ Choice Awards several times. He’s got a built-in audience of young people who adore him, and grown-ups who appreciate his child-like goofiness in the aforementioned films. I could say the same for Will Ferrell, who won my neice over with “Elf” and “Kicking and Screaming”, but since has reverted to profane drug/sex-related humor in subsequent releases. At any rate, my wife and I generally avoid R-rated flicks, so we’ll stick to “Andy Griffith” re-runs until Black gets back to doing clean comedy.

  2. This is a low-brow comedy with intentionally low-brow jokes. People with low-brow sense of humor will use words like “retard” and the N word. That doesn’t make it okay but don’t expect political correctness when you go to see a movie like this.

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