Tropic Thunder
November 16, 2008

The problem with trying to do over-the-top Hollywood parody is that someone’s most likely already done it, only straight.

Tropic Thunder cover
Tropic Thunder
Single-Disc Edition
Buy this DVD

For instance, the opening war movie scene, with the excessive blood spurting and the body jerking way too much from the bullets hitting it and the helicopters spinning out of control … it’s not that much more over-the-top than movies you’ve already seen. I loved the fake trailers that opened the film, though, and they made it clear that this comedy wasn’t going to be subtle. Which it isn’t.

It is funny, though, even when you’re shaking your head at the ridiculousness of it all. It looked to me, from the promotion, like a gross action comedy, but it’s really a Hollywood satire with extra violence.

I would have appreciated it more, I think, if promotion these days didn’t include giving away the best parts. The twist — actors are sent into real-life danger because they won’t get serious about their job — and the astounding cameos — like Tom Cruise as the studio head — I already knew about from when the movie was in theaters three months ago. The marketing back then gave away much of what would have been more enjoyable if it had been a surprise.

Nick Nolte and Danny McBride

Nick Nolte and Danny McBride

But no description could capture how well Nick Nolte plays a psycho (the Vietnam vet whose book the movie-within-a-movie is based on). I wanted to see this because I’ve become a Robert Downey, Jr. fangirl, but Steve Coogan (Hamlet 2) as the director is the character I felt most involved with. (Which was a shame, given what happened.) I don’t recommend the movie for Downey fans, just because he sinks so far into his role as an Oscar-winning method actor who dyes his skin black that he’s almost unrecognizable. It’s an astounding performance, but very little of him is on view. (And I found the blue contacts unbelievable.)

Ben Stiller does an amazing job as a stupid action hero who’s trying to make it as an actor. I didn’t realize until after the film ended how cleverly he takes his character out of events so he could focus on directing. Jack Black acts crazy in a different, underwritten way that I didn’t find amusing. To balance the three leads, there’s an underworked white guy (Jay Baruchel from Undeclared) and a rapper stereotype (Brandon T. Jackson). Matthew McConaughey, playing Stiller’s agent, does a surprisingly good job.

Baruchel, Jackson, Stiller, Downey Jr., and Black

Baruchel, Jackson, Stiller, Downey Jr., and Black

Given my tastes, I liked the Hollywood jabs more than the gore. Once the plot settles down, the movie becomes the same thing it was previously parodying: a war film where the leads learn teamwork and struggle through a death-defying situation. Ed, who has greater tolerance for such things, said, “This is actually a better film than I thought it was going to be.”

Ultimately, it’s still a “crazy guys blow s**t” up movie for that young adult male audience. For that reason, Danny McBride as the film’s profane “effects man”/ pyromaniac, is the truest character in the film. But everybody gets to be a hero and some honest laughs — some from sheer disbelief — happened along the way.

The official movie site features an 8-bit-style shooting game.

Special Features

In the two-disc Director’s Cut Edition, the first disc includes, along with the film, two commentaries, one with cast (actors Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. still playing Kirk Lazarus playing Lincoln Osiris) and one with crew (director Ben Stiller, co-writer, producer, editor, director of photography, and production designer). There’s also the world’s worst public service announcement, put out by Dreamworks after they got flak for their use of the term “retard” in this movie and its promotional material.

Tropic Thunder cover
Tropic Thunder
Director’s Cut Edition
Buy this DVD

Disc 2 has all the goodies. There are four short (five to ten minutes each) featurettes:

  • “Before the Thunder” — the origin of the idea that became the movie
  • “The Hot LZ” — cinematography, visual influences, and the helicopters
  • “Blowing S**t Up” — exactly what it sounds like, special effects explosions
  • “Designing the Thunder” — locations and sets

“The Cast of Tropic Thunder” profiles seven major cast members. Downey’s shows a bit of the process involved in his blackface makeup. Rain of Madness is a faux documentary about the filming of the movie within the movie that parodies Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. I found the funniest bit the part where they attribute a clip from Heat Vision and Jack (a real failed pilot starring Jack Black and Owen Wilson as a talking motorcycle) as early work by Black’s character. “Dispatches From the Edge of Madness” is more clips from the fake doc.

There are also two deleted scenes, two extended scenes with commentary, and an alternate ending (with a different fate for McConaughey’s character). Plus, there’s a make-up test with Tom Cruise, which is really just more of him dancing; the footage from the MTV Movie Awards where the three stars talk about making a viral video and beat each other up; and additional rehearsal and improv footage.

The single-disc edition has the cast commentary, “Blowing S**t Up”, “The Hot LZ”, the cast shorts, the Movie Awards clip, and a couple of pieces of the additional footage. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)

3 Responses  
David Oakes writes:  

Is it just me, or does it look like Nolte just went “Snap!” and McBride is saying “You did not go there, Girlfriend!” in a painfully Dominican accent?

Really? I guess I should cut back on the Kool-Aid before surfing…

Rich Johnston writes:  

This is the first time I’ve ever seen Styeve Coogan’s identifying credit as (Hamlet 2)

david brothers writes:  

One of the best RDJ bits in the movie is late in the film, when most of the cast is around a campfire, and he delivers completely ridiculous line, breaks character with a grin, and then goes back to being dour. The look on his face was just amazing.

“Ha ha, did you guys see that?!” kind of thing.


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