To be brutally honest, I wasn’t expecting much from Tropic Thunder. I’m not a big fan of Ben Stiller or his brand of humour. The only reason I went along to Tropic Thunder was to see Robert Downey Jr. playing a white man, playing a black man in a movie within a movie. We’ll get to Downey’s performance later, because first off, I want to tell you just how much I ended up enjoying Tropic Thunder.
Tropic Thunder is a schizophrenic movie, on the one hand its crass and rude – this is exemplified by the ‘it’s funny but I shouldn’t be laughing’ fake advert that precedes a couple out outrageously funny fake trailers, and on the other hand it’s a subtle comedy where you have to listen out for the gentle digs at the Hollywood machine.
Yes, this is a movie that mocks the very industry that made its actors rich and famous, and whilst mocking the industry they mock themselves, portraying the roles of spoilt prima donnas with ease.
It also fearlessly pays homage to Apocalypse Now whilst shredding the war genre in much the same way Hot Fuzz did the police drama, with an obvious and over the top poke at Oliver Stone’s climatic scene in Platoon, managing to achieve what Stone’s special effects crew failed to pull off.
Portraying Hollywood as being run by money grabbing, white executives where white actors will do anything in an effort to attain a coveted Academy Award, Tropic Thunder shines with Downey’s role as a successful Australia actor (totally mocking Russel Crowe, and Australian pop culture) who undergoes skin pigmentation to play the role of the lead black actor, relegating a real black actor to a support role, mainly for vanity and Oscar glory.
As risky a ploy as this is, it pays off in spades with the real black actor (played by Brandon T. Jackson) bringing Downey’s character down a peg or two at every opportunity, therefore making the audience laugh at Downey’s character, rather than with him.
The most controversial move was the inclusion of Simple Jack and a host of jokes seemingly aimed at people with disabilities. But again, Stiller’s character – who played the role of Simple Jack in a previous movie (within the movie) is ridiculed for taking the role too far and thus we laugh at him.
The most unexpected stand out performance however came from Tom Cruise, playing a nasty, slightly disturbing Jerry Maguire. Expecting nothing more that a quick cameo from Cruise I didn’t spot him straight away, but by the time the credits started to roll and Cruise was trying to be cool and hip, ‘dancing’ to rap music I had admiration for the guys acting ability – though not enough admiration that I’m looking forward to seeing him in any other movies.
All in all, Tropic Thunder was a blast. It had you laughing and at the same time wondering if you should be laughing, chuckling to yourself at some of the more subtle in jokes and generally enjoying yourself for the most part. At it’s high points Tropic Thunder is pure genius, but the periods where the humour wasn’t so funny sometimes lasted a little too long and relegates what could have been the funniest comedy of the year to a comedy that will divide audiences into two camps: those that get it and those that wonder why they wasted their money.
I for one enjoyed it, though feel compelled to issue a warning: Tropic Thunder is rated R16 because it contains gratuitous gore, violence and utilises the F-word nearly as frequently as Full Metal Jacket.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Read.
Rating: R16 – Contains violence, sexual references and offensive language.
Duration: 107 mins.
Director: Ben Stiller.
Actors: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Jay Baruchel, Steve Coogan, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Tobey Maguire.
Release Date: 21 August, 2008.