Tropic Thunder (2008)

Director:  Ben Stiller
Cast:  Ben StillerJack BlackRobert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise
Plot:  Through a series of freak occurrences, a group of actors shooting a big-budget war movie are forced to become the soldiers they are portraying.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Comedy
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Supporting Actor
Runtime:  107min
Rating:  M18 for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material.

Tropic Thunder is director Ben Stiller’s third feature length film after The Cable Guy and Zoolander. More popular in front of the camera than behind one, Stiller earns his dough mainly from doing hit comedies such as The Royal Tenenbaums and There’s Something About Mary

His films can range from the really funny to the not-so-funny-that-it-is-funny; which is not much of a difference actually since his acting chops are limited to only one genre. I have observed that since the start of last year Stiller’s acting output has been on a decline, making increasingly low-value comedies like The Heartbreak Kid. 

Tropic Thunder in which Stiller also stars keeps him afloat for the time being. It is a box-office success in America. That is unsurprising because it is also arguably the best ‘parody film’ in recent years. Tropic Thunder erases the cinematic nightmare inflicted by hopeless spoof flicks such as Disaster Movie, Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans that have been populating our screens. 

Despite the critical stigma that surrounds these kinds of films, Stiller has been mostly successful in attempting to make fun of the war genre. Oliver Stone’s Platoon, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and most notably, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now have become the latest movies to get the spoof treatment

Stiller’s inexperience as a director shows in Tropic Thunder. There are scenes which could have been left out, including two supposedly funny song-and-dance sequences in the middle and at the end, which in addition to being jarring in a (spoofed) war film, remains unnecessary to the film’s objective. 

Tropic Thunder’s screenplay is not tight enough; narrative transitions are filmsy and apart from Robert Downey Jr., the other actors’ characters remain thinly developed. That being said, Downey Jr. gives an excellent performance by playing Kirk Lazarus, an Aussie method actor who undergoes facial surgery to transform into a black African-American. Because of this, there was a controversy during the film’s initial release as it was seen by some as a pro-racism stunt. Nevertheless, Tropic Thunder survived the backlash. 

There are disturbing images of bloody decapitated heads and limbs which are almost mandatory in a war picture. Tropic Thunder plays on this and viewers’ expectations, deliberately upping the gore and “eww!” factor with sprinkles of black humor added in. 

Don’t miss the start of the film because there is a farcical pre-movie trailer segment which although is separate from the actual film, helps to introduce the main players of Tropic Thunder and set the mood for a rollicking good two hours ahead. Tropic Thunder has many rough edges to be smoothened out, and Stiller’s direction could have been more polished. Nevertheless, this is still the spoof film to beat.

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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