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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Tropic Thunder

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"Tropic Thunder" - Will Have Audiences Laughing Up A Storm

After starring in the disastrous, unforgivable remake of “The Goodbye Kid” Ben Stiller could use a hit to redeem himself. He has that in Tropic Thunder which he produced, co-wrote, directed, and stars in that is a hilarious, politically incorrect send up of action war movies and also pokes fun at the Hollywood machine.

Right from the start the fake trailers preceding the movie, which act as introductions to the lead characters, are as funny as can be. Portly Jack Black, in a blond crew cut, is Jeff Portney, a drug addicted comedy star known for playing multiple roles in “The Fatties” comedy franchise (an obvious rip off of Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor). Brandon T. Jackson stars as Alpa Chino, a gangsta rap star/actor turned energy drink entrepreneur. Robert Downey Jr. portrays Oscar winning Australian superstar acclaimed for his Brokeback Mountain type role as a gay monk in Satan’s Alley. And a pumped up Stiller is Rambo type action hero Tugg Speedman, whose career is on a downward spiral after playing “Simple Jack” a retarded Forest Gump-like character in a film considered one of the worst movies ever made. Hmmm! I wonder if Stiller got inspired as the result of his last dreadful film.

The setting is Southeast Asia, where the guys, including newcomer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel, the one supposedly sane member of the group) have been cast in a movie version of a best seller based on the memoirs of a Viet Nam war vet, Four Leaf Tayback (a haggard looking, Nick Nolte). It is supposed to be the biggest, most expensive war film ever, but problems with the spoiled and pampered actors threaten to shut the production down. Things come to a head when Tugg can’t force himself to cry for a scene. Hoping to save the film by creating some much needed grit and emotional realism, the British director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan, star of Hamlet 2) devises a plan to fly the guys into the thick of it and shoot the movie “guerilla style”. Although told cameras have been rigged throughout the jungle, the actors, stripped of their cell phones and assistants, are basically left to fend for themselves, and as it turns out, defend themselves in the perilous region. So clueless and self absorbed are the bunch, they believe an encounter with a very real and dangerous drug cartel, lead by a gun wielding, cigarette smoking preteen (Brandon Soo Hoo) who mistake them for DEA “scum” out to bust their operation, are just actors and part of the script. Thrown into a real life situation they never expected, the actors are forced to become the courageous, strong war characters they portray in order to stay alive.

Stiller and his co-stars will do anything for a laugh and so, the go for broke approach ranges from funny dialogue and wacky interactions to over the top situations, to what some might find offensive. Of course, nothing is meant to be taken seriously, but it is touchy grounds when it comes to race issues or the mentally or physically handicapped. Nevertheless Stiller and each of his co-stars are in top form delivering all the necessary laughs.

In a side line role, Matthew McConaughy appears as Speedman’s frantic agent. But, without a doubt the two scene stealers that blew the lid off the film are Robert Downey Jr. and in a surprising appearance Tom Cruise. First off, this has got to be Downey’s year. With his highly acclaimed starring role as Iron Man, the comeback kid is once again back on top as an A list star after years of “habit”ual problems that almost ruined his career. In Tropic Thunder, he is fantastic as the Aussie method actor who goes to the extreme of portraying an African American by having his skin pigmentation surgically altered to make him black. Playing it straight faced all the way, Downey is both brilliant and hysterically funny as the actor who emerges himself so deeply in the role of a black man that he really believes he is black. One particular back and forth verbal interaction with Alpa Chino who tries to set Lazarus straight, is priceless. Downey’s performance is so amazingly effective that that you might wonder if reality is mirroring fiction.

Then there is Tom Cruise, who surprisingly shows up in a fat suit, playing Les Grossman, an overweight, bald, ranting and raving, obscenity spewing studio head with a penchant for Diet Pepsi and hip hop. Cruise lets it all loose, proves he can take on comedy to the nth degree and is terrific.

So, as far as I am concerned, Cruise and Downey are the two strongest reasons to see this comedy spoof. I couldn’t imagine the film being as funny if these acting forces weren’t on board. They definitely steal the thunder.