Tropic Thunder


I’d like to take a moment to consider one of the best aspects of Tropic Thunder: that the trailer didn’t ruin the film. In recent memory, films have often been let down by their marketing. Comedies are often the worst offenders, and it’s easy to understand why: how to show a film is funny without ruining any jokes? The answer is to write a film that doesn’t rely on simple set up/punch line humour, instead crafting some clever laughs that use escalation to build up to a crescendo of laughs. Alternatively, you can simply have so many jokes that it’s impossible to include them all in a two minute ad. Tropic Thunder does both.

Ben Stiller’s directing gigs are often far more impressive than the majority of his films.Tropic Thunder The last theatrical feature he directed was Zoolander, and since then we’ve seen some woeful additions to his resume, culminating in the horribly bland Night at the Museum. This time round he not only directs and stars, but co-produces and co-writes, and it’s one of the strongest films he’s been involved in for a while.

It’s a satire of sorts, targeting the big Hollywood movie, their actors and the egos that hover over them. Tropic Thunder is the name of a film directed by fresh Brit director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), based on the book of the same name, a memoir by American hero Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) about his time served in ‘Nam. The filmmakers are over budget and behind schedule, so Four Leaf suggests sending the actors into an actual danger zone to shoot the movie ‘for real’.

That’s pretty much all you need to know, and the film that follows doesn’t disappoint. Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr are all cast against type as actors who seem to have forgotten that they’re simply there to get a job done. Black actually seems a little out of place, and his character is certainly the least well-written. As ‘funny man’ Jeff Portnoy, he’s only really interested in getting high. Most will already know of Downey Jr’s appearance in this film, and this performance has finally brought me around to liking him, all those years after despising Wayne Gale in Natural Born Killers. Stiller actually feels absent for most of the film, and this is probably due to also being director.

It’s more than a little unbalanced – the narrative doesn’t seem to have a proper beginning, middle and end. It’s effectively a non-stop onslaught of over-the-top humour, explosions and blood. The cameos come thick and fast (I won’t ruin the best one) and the ‘trailers’ for the characters’ previous films are easily the best part of Tropic Thunder.

This stands out from the recent bunch of comedies (that ALL seem to have involved Seth Rogen or Judd Apatow, somehow) simply because it’s so extreme. It may have been a better film if it had occasionally gone for subtlety, or if it didn’t try to also be an action film, but there’s no denying just how funny it is.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 20th August 2008
Hoopla Factor: 4.0 stars

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