Rated: R :: Released: 13 August 2008
Director: Ben Stiller :: Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Ben Stiller and Jack Black
By James D. Deaux IV
16 October 2008 — Tropic Thunder is not just one of the most offensive movies I have ever watched, it is also one of the most hilarious movies I have ever watched. Nearly everyone will take offense to the distasteful jokes, especially Asians and blacks, the mentally retarded, homosexuals, movie crews and children. Thankfully, I happen to be the kind of person who is not offended by anything, so I was able to take in the absurdity of it all.
The movie starts with a sequence of fake trailers and commercials. The first one seamlessly begins when you think you're still watching the real trailers. Though the fake advertisement is vulgar, it's flawlessly integrated, so I actually wondered if a prankster switched the reels. After the bogus ad, we see a series of over-the-top movie trailers, each introducing us to the actors — and by that I mean the actors the actors are playing. After we get a taste of what each in-movie actor brings to the table, the film truly begins.
It takes place in the jungles of Vietnam and Myanmar, where we have the cast and crew of what will be the most ludicrously expensive and violent war movie ever: Tropic Thunder. It is supposed to be a movie based on a book written by John "Four Leaf" Tayback (Nick Nolte), a Vietnam vet who is overseeing the production of the film. He's also the man who comes up with the plan to drop the actors into the middle of the jungle. The cast is comprised of prima donnas, introduced through the aforementioned fake trailers, that don't get along and care more about their posh hotels and luxuries than getting this preposterously expensive movie done. Highlighting this motley crew of neurotic egos is Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.), a multi-Academy Award-winning Australian actor who underwent a pigment-altering operation to play the black staff sergeant of the rescue squad. His character could be seen as a lampoon on Australian actor Russell Crowe, who is infamous for his rather callous attitude. Downey as Lazarus as Sgt. Lincoln Osiris steals the scene whenever he speaks, though, at times he is so in character that he's hard to understand. The de facto straight man of this self-absorbed unit is Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), a cheesy action star in the vein of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Speedman thinks the entire thing is all part of the filming, as such, he constantly yells at the other actors to stay in character. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is a drug-addicted comedian, and hardly has any lines. But when he finally does speak, ridiculously crude and funny moments ensue. Otherwise, his character doesn't really add much to the movie, and his involvement seems mostly unnecessary.
Being the divas that they are, they've cost the production company so much money that the studio executive (portrayed by a certain actor who shall remain nameless) demands that the director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) do something drastic — or else. So, Tayback and Cockburn decide the best way to deal with all these egos is to punish them by flying them deep into the jungles of Vietnam and making them trudge through the hot, sticky terrain with strategically placed cameras everywhere. This way, they will get the movie done at a minimal cost while adding realism to it. It will also allow the rookie director and disillusioned vet / author to get a little revenge on the self-centered actors. However, upon entering the jungle, something legitimately shocking happens and the actors have to figure out what is going on and where to go. I have to admit that when I saw this scene, I abandoned all predictions and let myself get engrossed by the movie. When the drug lords in Myanmar get involved, specifically Tran (Brandon Soo Hoo), their young leader, it became even more ridiculous and funnier.
The biggest controversy stemming from Tropic Thunder involves an earlier movie in the career of Tugg Speedman: Simple Jack. The movie was about a mentally retarded young man, and Speedman portrayed the person as so mentally deficient that hundreds of people on behalf of disability advocacy groups wound up protesting Tropic Thunder for its repeated use of the word "retard." In fairness, the movie does use it quite a bit. On more than one occasion, Lazarus mocks Speedman for how exceedingly exaggerated his portrayal of a retarded person was by contrasting it to the legendary roles played by Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks in Rain Man and Forrest Gump, respectively.
I will not go on an anti-political-correctness tangent here because I can understand why many people would be offended by watching Tropic Thunder, but you simply must realize that it is not a movie for sensitive people. If you saw any of the previews, then you have a pretty good sense of what you're in for. The movie is full of blood, violence, foul language, sexual jokes, drugs and all manner of other adult themes. If anything, Tropic Thunder is an equal opportunity offender, which is just the way I love it.
Grade: 81 / 100