This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Seemingly an idea that’s been gestating in Ben Stiller’s mindtank for a while, Tropic Thunder sees a group of A-list actors seeking to make the best war movie ever by heading off into the jungle, accidentally getting mixed up in a very real shooting war, and given that there seems to have been about as much money spent marketing this film as there was in making it I’ll assume you know the general thrust of things and skip onwards.
Stiller himself plays Tugg Speedman, an amalgam of every notable 80’s action star with a career on the slide, but rather than go into politics he’s looking to stretch his meagre acting talents into more demanding drama roles. Also seeking credibility is Jack Black’s comedy actor Jeff Portnoy known entirely for fatsuited farting low-brow nonsense, and his fierce addiction to Bolivian Marching Powder. Add in Robert Downey Jr. as Russell Crowe, sorry, Kirk Lazarus, a multi-Oscar winning respected character actor who’s had himself dyed black to play an African American, shake well and bake for a few hours and the results are gratifyingly tasty.
Now, Stiller had said that there was a cut of this running to nearly four hours, which is frankly insane and it’s good that he’s had the sense to rein this back in to something a little more manageable. As a high concept comedy it works well and doesn’t outstay its welcome, and they’ve edited the pacing down to a tee. There’s some real laughs to be had here, and not just at how much Jack Black looks like Brian Dennehy.
For a Stiller trademark Zoolander-esque Big Dumb Comedy, it also manages to pack in a reasonable level of grizzly comedy gore, capturing that 80’s vibe of bloodletting as entertainingly laughable escapism rather than gritty realism.
It’s also a rather sharply observed script, although if you’re going to level a criticism at it the best I can come up with is that a good amount of the comedy does tend towards being a little bit insider-y, at least in as much as you’ll probably have to have at least some interest or knowledge of studio politics and pretensions of certain actors to get all of the stuff Stiller’s throwing at the wall, although even then it’s hardly a documentary and no prior knowledge is required to get some high value comedy entertainment from it. Besides, if you’re reading a movie review website I’d imagine lack of knowledge about movie systems is the least of your concerns.
It is, I suppose, another one of those times where I have to say that if you aren’t already a fan of Actor X, where here X = Stiller’s stuff already then this won’t be the outing to change your mind. However, if you’re part of the legion who ‘discovered’ and loved the now cult classic Zoolander on DVD after the disappointing performance of its cinematic release then this is exactly the sort of film you should lap up. It’s certainly one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen this year and comes recommended.