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Tropic Thunder (2008)

The movie they think they're making... isn't a movie anymore.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 107 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15


Movie fan that I am, one of the only genres I never really explored was the war film, until this past year, that is. Now I’ve seen them all—Uncommon Valor, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon—lots of guys and guns and exploding. Maybe that’s what made Tropic Thunder so fun for me; I’ve recently been inundated with all the clichés it pokes fun at, so I felt like I was really in on the joke. It didn’t hurt that Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise were hilarious.

Filming isn’t going so well on Tropic Thunder, a Vietnam-based war drama starring three of Hollywood’s top actors—funny man Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), serious method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), and action hero Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller). When the Hollywood head honchos start demanding a finished product, director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) decides to take the advice of a real former soldier and cut his pampered stars off from the luxuries of their star-studded lifestyles—all does not go well, and the cast finds themselves in the middle of a real “war” with local drug dealers.

Before the film came out, a lot was made of the fact that Downey Jr. was playing a white man dressing up as a black man, but I think the controversy died down when it was apparent the blackface was meant more as a joke on method acting than as racism—everybody was fair game in Tropic Thunder, and it was all a bunch of fun. I’m so happy that he got an Oscar nomination for his role as Kirk Lazarus (which by the way, he holds on to in the DVD commentary, just like he said he would in the movie). If the awards folks are going to recognize any comedy performance—and as a side note, I’m not sure why they don’t do it more often—this was the one to pick. But Tom Cruise deserves some recognition, too, as do Stiller and co-writer Justin Theroux for writing a script that’s actually a lot more clever than it may seem at first. The skewering of Hollywood politics, stereotypes, and spoiled stars is spot on, and the fake trailers at the beginning of the movie are hysterical. The film is a little uneven, and sometimes there’s not a whole lot of funny for a good stretch—the pace is great in the beginning, jokes and sight gags and even some slapstick stuff abound—but around the middle, and then again near the end, things seem drawn out and slowed down. Also, I’m all for risqué humor, but it has to be … you know … funny, and there are occasions when it seems they went dirty just for the sake of it—though, I gotta say, some of Cruise’s most foul-mouthed lines are also some of the best. Overall, even with its flaws, Tropic Thunder delivers.

It's Got: Very funny Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise, great take-offs of war movies and Hollywood types.

It Needs: To keep it’s laughs going all the way through.

DVD Extras Unrated Director’s Cut; 2 Commentaries (One: Filmmakers; Two: Actors); LOTS of Featurettes: “Before the Thunder” (pre-production); “The Hot LZ” (opening battle sequence); “Blowing Shit Up” (special effects); “Designing the Thunder” (production design); “The Cast of Tropic Thunder,” “Rain of Madness (fake documentary about making the fictional Tropic Thunder); “Dispatches from the Edge of Madness” (additional scenes); More deleted and extended scenes; “Make-Up Test with Tom Cruise”; MTV Movie Awards: Tropic Thunder; Full Mags (4 improv scenes); Video rehearsals DVD Extras Rating: 10/10


Despite some issues, Tropic Thunder has moments of hilarity and some truly classic lines and performances.