Tropic Thunder (***)

Posted on August 25th, 2008 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Tropic Thunder is flat out hilarious.  I’m not a huge fan of Ben Stiller’s ouevre (or his movies), and I can’t recall one of his films I really liked or wanted to see more than once.  Zoolander and There’s Something About Mary were okay, but nothing to write home about.  I barely chuckled at either Parents movie.  I couldn’t watch all of the Museum movie.  Can’t really remember any others.

Suffice it to say I’m not a Stiller fanboy.  I’m still not, but I’m a big fan of Tropic Thunder.  The film is the story of the making of the film-within-a-film Tropic Thunder, based on the book by a Vietnam war vet (played pitch-perfectly by Nick Nolte).  The production is struggling, so the director (Steve Coogan) opts to go for a more cinema verite approach, by taking his actors into the deep jungle and filming them with hidden cameras, while the maniacal effects supervisor (Danny McBride) shell-shocks them with explosions, incoming fire, and other nastiness.

Hilarity ensues, as they say.

First of all, Jack Black’s performance is spectacular – he looks like Brian Dennehy from 20 years ago, if Dennehy had been in the middle of a roller-coaster, hyper-manic, drug-raged, flame-out-spiral.  I can’t think of another actor today who could have pulled of Black’s role with such…conviction?  Robert Downey Jr. plays a dude who’s playing a dude who’s playing another dude, and puts on an acting tour de farce.  And Ben Stiller manages not to upset the balance – his character is the himbo fading action star desperately hanging on the bottom rung of stardom (and apparently doing a metric buttload of pull-ups, judging from his ripped arms).

Things go off the rail for the production when the actors stumble across actual bad guys – a jungle-dwelling drug kingpin and his village of minions.  The storyline follows the expected path from there, with at least some of the actors thinking that they’re still being tormented by the director in order to give better performances, while others have an inkling that they might be in real trouble.

The film represents a pointy stick right in the eye of Big Hollywood, and it lampoons all facets of the movie business.  Keep your eyes peeled for all the cameos, they come fast and furious, with some celebs playing themselves and other playing thinly-disguised self-parodies (and in some cases both at the same time). 

So, if you like movies, and the movie business, and movies about the movie business, and movies about making movies, then Tropic Thunder may be the movie for you.

Oh, and through the course of the film try to keep a running estimate of the budget for the soundtrack – it had to be monstrous…

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