A movie about a fake movie with a white guy playing a black guy in a fake war really doesn’t seem like it would have basis for anything but failure. Surprise. TROPIC THUNDER is a movie that delivers laughs and a good story in a spoof that speaks to a larger audience than I ever expected.
Starting with its guns a blazin’, TROPIC THUNDER introduces its three main characters via their vehicle of fame. Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) promotes his "Booty Sweat" energy drink and "Bust-A-Nut" candy bar, while performing his hit song, "I Love Tha' Pussy". Then we meet action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) starring in his latest film failure, 'Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown'. The next trailer features comedian Jeff "Fatty" Portnoy (Jack Black), playing the entirety of "America's favorite obese family" in the highly flatulent 'The Fatties: Fart 2'. The final trailer, and my absolute favorite, 'Satan's Alley', features Australian superhunk Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) and Tobey Maguire (as himself) as two monks who begin a passionate affair. This story has got to be optioned by now.
Now that you have an idea of how ‘large’ each of these stars is, it comes as no surprise that while filming their current big-blockbuster disaster war movie, the egos begin to clash, and people lose control. To rectify the situation, the director tries a ‘guerilla style shooting’ tactic to get real emotions out of these solipsistic Hollywood A-listers. As soon as they embark on their new ‘sets’, things begin spiraling out of control and the actors playing military-trained human war weapons get thrown into a battle against a 12-year old drug lord in Cambodia. And no, it isn’t Maddox Jolie Pitt.
With a movie that has Downey playing a white dude who undergoes an experimental operation to darken his skin to play a black war hero, you know controversy will befall this film. But that isn’t where the cries for foul play arise. It actually stems from the loose usage of ‘retard’ in the film to describe a character Stiller’s character played in the film, ‘Simple Jack’. After hearing all the hubbub and reading that there was a call for an apology and removal of the word from the film, I expected the offensiveness to fly before I even got into my movie seat. But I watched, I was awake, and I laughed. To this movie lover, the word ‘retard’ was used in context and more exemplified the idiocy and stupidity of the two characters than it did reflect negatively upon the mentally challenged. I honestly don’t understand why this happened.
Anyhow, let’s get back to Downey’s character Lazarus. With a lesser actor, I think this couldn’t have been pulled off, but every single time I see Downey hit the screen, I realize how talented and fluid this actor is. From this summer’s IRON MAN to Lazarus, he tackles such a silly character with depth and humor. Stiller plays the same neurotic head case he usually does and it really works in this situation. Black plays a heroin addict pretty well. And the three leading men who usually headline movies work well as an ensemble.
The cameos are never ending in this film, and a great game can be just watching and seeing how many stars you can name when they appear onscreen. I absolutely loved the supporting role Tom Cruise has as Les Grossman, the media mogul behind all this craziness. Many publications have said this role is resurrecting his career, and it totally has. He is once again likeable to me.
In short this movie is full of laughs, silly giggles, full out knee slappers, and guffaws in disbelief. This is one of those films so rooted in intelligent stupidity you can’t help but enjoy yourself. In the beginnings you think, a movie really can’t sustain this level of dumbassness in its characters and still have them remain likeable. But the truth is, it does. With smart dialogue, a great characters, and talented actors, the story never falls flat as the insanity ensues.
I was lucky enough to attend a talk with the producer where he imparted some interesting tidbits to us about the film. One of the coolest things? 12-year old drug lord Tran, (Brandon Soo Hoo) was the second actor the producers saw and totally fell in love. Not only that, something I didn’t understand…Tran was originally supposed to speak Cantonese (in Cambodia?!) and then the part was changed to Mandarin because one of the screenwriters was fluent in Mandarin. Cool. Also, Tom Cruise, as big of a star as he was, actually talked for a long while with Stiller while the script was still being written and helped create the Grossman character he later ended up bringing to the screen. Cruise also asked for a make-up test to make sure everything looked good, something actors of his fame level usually never even agree to! And suggested he have really large hands. Plus my favorite thing? Cruise said ‘Grossman should dance’. No rhyme or reason. The character should just dance…and that dance was funny! So go, get out of the summer heat and laugh just enough to pee pee just a bit in your pants. That’s the true test of comedy.