Tropic Thunder (2008) (R)
"Tropic Thunder" is the comedy that every other movie has been trying to recreate for the last five years. It's the smartest comedy I've seen in a long time and it just as funny as it should be. The movie obviously draws its inspiration from the debacle of making "Apocalypse Now" but it goes much further than that and, to borrow a word from the more modern world, it's quite "meta". This self-referential, explosive fest of laughs and gore does nothing but leave the mark very high for any movie to follow, comedy or not.
At its beginning, "Tropic Thunder" plays like a movie about a movie about a book about a situation...but that's not quite it. Because it's a movie about the making of the movie of the book of the...you know, nevermind, it doesn't matter.
Tropic Thunder was a best belling book about the Vietnam War told by Four Leaf Tayback—and is being made into a movie. "Tropic Thunder" is the movie about the making of the movie of the book. God, this is getting difficult. It actually makes a lot of sense when you watch the movie.
A big name studio has purchased the rights to the book and have hired a first time director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) to direct a lot of huge stars with big egos, a job which is just as hard as it sounds. Critics' darling Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) is the head honcho of acting here, the one who spouts the most "mumbo-jumbo" about the art of being someone else. Against him we have the man playing Four Leaf Tayback in the movie trying to be made, Tugg Speedman.
Let's put it this way:
"Tropic Thunder" is like a documentary about the gnarled up making of "Tropic Thunder". We watch the actors try to make a drama, with all the behind the scenes goodies you could ask for. Anyways, continuing...
Trying to break the mold of a stereotype and type-casted action star, Tugg (Ben Stiller) is trying to elate himself to the source material and please his agent (Matthew McConaughey). Frankly, there are so many jabs towards war movies inside "Tropic Thunder" that you may think twice when you see "Saving Private Ryan" or "Apocalypse Now".
Shooting on location in the Vietnam jungles, "Tropic Thunder's" production is placed in halt when the studio executive, Les Grossman (Tom Hanks) learns of a 4 million dollar screw up. He tells Damien to get his ducks in a row, or else.
The real life Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) is on set and offers some advice to the new director: make your actors really feel like they're living in the Vietnam War. Take them away from their fancy massages, their televisions, and their assistants and give them a real taste of the war.
It's kind of like "The Hunger Games" except actually enjoyable.
So Damien, Four Leaf, and the explosion special effects guy (Danny McBride), take the actors off into the forest and leave them there with some handy dandy explosions ready to stir the emotion. What they don't realize is that they've flown into the territory where actual guerrilla warfare seems to be happening. That's what first impressions tell us anyway.
In essence, they've dropped our boys into an actual threatening situation with no way out except "finish the movie".
The other actors include an Eddie Murphy type, Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a newbie Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), and an advertising junkie, Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) who is always hawking his own product: Booty Juice. As if this weren't enough, Kirk Lazarus has undergone "pigment surgery" to turn him into an African American soldier.
This movie seems primed to offend; but it doesn't, or at least it didn't to me.
"Tropic Thunder" is so glorious in its best moments and never, ever dull. It's so smart, so wickedly clever, and full of so many funny scenes that you'll think that you've imagined it up. Ben Stiller directed and helped write this scathing commentary on Hollywood and the award generating machine.
From its simple fart jokes to the more obscene comments, insinuating on the levels of mental handicap that an actor should play that will win him an Oscar—"Tropic Thunder" is so audacious to be brilliant and so self-aware to be unnaturally smart.
It is a boy's movie, and why shouldn't it be? It's glorious.
Posted by Micah Jones