2008. 107 minutes. Rated R.
Kirk Lazarus: “I know who I am! I’m a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude!”
It doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. There are gratuitous explosions. It toes the line with stereotypes. But Tropic Thunder was one of my favorite movies of 2008.
It’s a movie about making a movie, which is a fantastic frame; unbeknownst to the actors who have been dropped on location in Vietnam for authenticity, when the director steps on a landmine, the only shooting that continues is by drug-runners, at our heroes, who still think they are within a construct they will emerge from safely.
The motley crew includes Tugg Speedman (a very shredded, action hero-y Ben Stiller), a dumba who thinks he’s smarter than he is; Jeff Portney (Jack Black) playing the same character he always plays, an overly exuberant druggie); Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), a novice in his first breakthrough role; up-and-comer rapper turned actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr., in blackface, yo) an Aussie actor who embraces an adopted heritage after stealing the “only good black role” from Alpa Chino.
My favorite things:
Ben Stiller & Justin Theroux’s writing. The dialogue is funny, snappy even; there is plenty of slapstick comedy. The team brilliantly pokes fun of the movie industry with the creation of characters like Les Grossman (Tom Cruise), an over the top greedy and foul-mouthed exec; his smarmy ass-kissing assistant Rob Slolom (Bill Hader); and ingratiating agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey).
The Cast. Downey got nominated for best supporting actor, and lost out to Heath Ledger that year. Ledger’s Joker was brilliant and macabre and terrifyingly terrific, yes, but… comedy NEVER gets props, and I think comedic actors are BETTER at dramatic acting than more traditional dramatists. They have better timing, more expressive faces, and can quickly switch gears from pained to silly. Downey got shafted. I found Cruise in particular committed to his role. He sold it, and made me forget I was watching Tom Cruise.
The Trailers. The trailers at the beginning of the film, for the work by the characters in Tropic Thunder, are sheer genius: ridiculous, but not so far-fetched. I won’t spoil it, but will say there are some delightful cameos; keep your eye out for someone Amazing in priestly garb.