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War is Hell
by Matt Forsman on Aug 13, 2008
Making a film is pretty much a thankless march through hell. War is no walk in the park either. Making a film about war? Pure, unadulterated insanity. Tropic Thunder begins with harried director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) on the verge of a meltdown as production of his epic Vietnam war film Tropic Thunder has come to a standstill. His three self-absorbed megastars (Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and Jack Black) canít get their act together and production is a month behind after a mere five days of shooting!
On the verge of being shutdown, Cockburn makes a bold move and drops his prima donnas in the "shit" and opts to shoot guerrilla style in a desperate attempt to salvage his rapidly unraveling epic. Unfortunately, Cockburn steps on a landmine, prematurely ending his brilliant career and the prima donnas are left to fend for themselves "off the grid".
Heading up this platoon of miscreants is Ben Stillerís Tugg Speedman. Speedmanís career needs a boost as his latest films Simple Jack and Scorcher 6 havenít exactly spelled box office gold. Headstrong and as clueless as they come, Speedman blindly leads his fellow thespians into the jungle to complete the film despite the fact that their director is a pile of smoking flesh and the "extras" (natives) arenít shooting at them with blanks.
Flanking Speedman is Jack Blackís Jeff Portnoy, a drug addicted comedian whose fart inspired humor ("The Fatties" franchise) has raked in some box office dollars, but garnered Portnoy zero accolades or respect. Tropic Thunder may very well spell Portnoyís redemption sans flatulence.
Rounding out this trifecta is Robert Downey Jrís Kirk Lazarus, an Australian actor with five Oscars to his name. Downey effectively steals the show with his hysterical performance as an African-American soldier ("the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude.") There are more than a few moments when itís easy to forget that youíre looking at Robert Downey Jr.
Above and beyond the consistently funny performances of Stiller, Black, and Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder has a number of quality cameos by Matthew McConaughey as Speedmanís moronic agent Rick Peck (ĎPeckerí), Tom Cruise as the filmís loathsome and livid producer Les Grossman, and Nick Nolte playing the unhinged and burned out author of the Tropic Thunder book, Four Leaf Taybeck.
Given the glut of A-list actors in Tropic Thunder, this late summer comedy could easily have become a pastiche of posturing and comedic non-sequitors, but Ben Stiller (director and co-writer) put together a film that has an actual story and character arcs for just about all of the primary cast members. Iím not saying Tropic Thunder is an Oscar contender, but Stiller has assembled a pretty complete film.
In short, Tropic Thunder is one of the most consistently funny and at times offensive films of the year. Ben Stillerís latest may not trump Dr. Strangelove, but as far as war comedies go, Tropic Thunder is pretty close.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
by Matt Forsman on Aug 13, 2008
images courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures
Ben Stiller as Tugg Speedman and Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus
Jack Black as Jeff Portnoy