Tropic Thunder (2008)
Tropic Thunder (2008)

Genre: Action Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: August 13th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ben Stiller Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride, Nick Nolte, Tom Cruise, Bill Hader, Matthew McConaughey, Christine Taylor




rilliantly, “Tropic Thunder” begins with commercials and trailers to highlight the ludicrous nature of the movie star personas who will receive top billing in the actual film. Quite hilariously, despite the extreme exaggerations of these clips, there’s something entirely believable about them, as if only light riffs instead of the over-the-top parodies that they are. Once the story proper starts, it’s yet another series of spoofs – this time of modern war movies (chiefly “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon”).

In 1969, an elite team of soldiers is sent into South East Vietnam to rescue John “Four Leaf” Tayback (Nick Nolte) from an NVA prison camp. It’s a suicide mission for which 10 men depart but only 4 return. And though 3 of them write books, only 2 are published – and one of them is attempted to be turned into a movie. Or, more accurately, “Tropic Thunder” is the movie about the making of that movie (which is also called “Tropic Thunder”). From boom microphones dropping into the frame, to actors taking phone calls, to problems with the script, to bad publicity, everything seems to go wrong for what the media is calling the “most expensive war movie never made.”

Producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) is furious, especially at director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), who can’t seem to control his stars: the method-acting, Oscar-winning Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), who had his skin chemically altered to play an African-American sergeant; Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a man-child who frequently has problems with the law and with drugs; Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), who found success promoting energy drinks; Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), an action star who hasn’t had a recent hit; and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), a timid man who doesn’t make an impression on any of the cast and crew. When the real Tayback, a consultant on set, suggests that these inexperienced, unprepared wimps need to face genuine fears by being dropped off in hostile terrain with explosives and hidden cameras, the stage is set for a mixture of strained acting and actual military peril. “This feels pretty real!”

“Smoke and mirrors, guys.” Egregious amounts of violence crop up, but they’re mitigated by the constant silliness surrounding them. Many of these jokes are quite funny by themselves, even with intermittent severity, yet ”Tropic Thunder” can’t manage to keep up its momentum. It starts so strong with its movie-within-a-movie antics and its jabs at the industry itself, but the premise wears thin midway through. Struggles to stay in character, goofy montages, drug withdrawal, comical racism, and cameos fuel routine laughs, but they rarely contribute to the progression of the plot. Instead, they’re merely ingredients for catchy one-liners.

“I don’t read the script; the script reads me.” As sanities deteriorate and the situation grows more serious, it all begins to resemble an R-rated, expletive-riddled, edgy, graphic version of “Three Amigos,” in which insincere actors must find the courage to be heroic in realistic jeopardy (coming full circle, their lives imitate their art). The finale devolves into a full-on action film, overflowing with explosions and shootouts and stunts, though still peppered with digressions for conversations related to the high-maintenance idiocy of pampered actors – which mirrors the amplified artificiality of the opening sequence. At least it ends on a high point, returning to the hysterical oddness of Cruise in a bald cap, enjoying Ludacris’ “Get Back” entirely too much.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10