Tropic Thunder
dir Ben Stiller
scr Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen
with Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, Brandon T Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Nick Nolte, Danny McBride, Steve Coogan, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Bill Hader, Brandon Soo Hoo
release US 13.Aug.08, UK 19.Sep.08
08/US DreamWorks 1h47
Tropic Thunder
Three amigos: Black, Downey and Stiller

baruchel nolte cruise
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Tropic Thunder This comedy about movie-making allows the cast to play knowingly with their careers and public personae. But the film feels only half as funny as it should be, falling back too often on big action sequences that are too ridiculous to work on any level.

Three top actors are uniting to make the greatest ever Vietnam movie: action movie king Tugg Speedman (Stiller), Oscar-winning Aussie method actor Kirk Lazarus (Downey) and rubber-faced, drug-addicted Jeff Portnoy (Black). Into the jungle they go with their costars (Jackson and Baruchel), a rookie British director (Coogan), a gung ho explosives expert (McBride) and the real guy the story's based on (Nolte). But while trying to make a gritty, authentic film, they're caught up in a real rebel attack. And the studio boss (Cruise) isn't happy.

The film opens with a series of hilarious ads, trailers and entertainment news reports that introduce us to the central characters and set the tone for the Apocalypse Now meets Platoon movie they're trying to make. Each man has a comical back-story--Tugg's laughable earlier attempt at serious acting, Kirk's black-skin die-job and nonstop Ebonics, Jeff's addiction to "candy". And the actors are clearly having a ball playing these guys, developing a spiky camaraderie that makes the film thoroughly watchable. Meanwhile, Cruise is nearly unrecognisable, and very funny, in his scene-chomping role.

The movie works best while they're lampooning the filmmaking process, with astute jokes about every aspect of production from a director who isn't sure what he's doing to a desperate agent (McConaughey) who makes impossible demands. And even the first moment of violence has riotous shock value. From here, though, it slips into a second-rate action movie. And the comedy feels almost unintentional.

Meanwhile, the action fails to generate suspense because the characters get lost in the shuffle. We can see what Stiller is going for--a full-on parody of Vietnam movies--but by going there he abandons the more original spoof of people making a Vietnam movie. Because when emotional secrets emerge and unlikely heroes appear, it feels more like a toothless cliche than an edgy pastiche. Even then, the best thing is the hysterical dialog between these guys. Frankly, I'd watch them sit in a room and talk for two hours without any explosions at all.

cert 15 themes, strong language, violence, grisliness 30.Jul.08

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Tropic Thunder HootiePatootie, email: 1/5 "I did not care for the movie at all and found it a waste of time. A few chuckles here and there, but mainly it was overdone and overworked. Ben Stiller is just making the same stuff over and over, just changing the names." (18.Aug.08)
© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall