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Tropic Thunder: is that some kind of fruit drink
Tropic Thunder (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Tropic Thunder (DVD)
Advantages: Fun chamistry between Stiller & Downey Jr.; enough laughs to keep you entertained
Disadvantages: Patchy comedy; overlong and self-indulgent; wasted support cast; blatant product placement
Sadly, Tropic Thunder falls very firmly in the shadow of its predecessor. If Zoolander was Stiller's comedy Oscar, this is very much his comedy TV Quick Award - funny and enjoyable enough, but not destined to become a classic.
Tropic Thunder's basic plot certainly sees plenty of opportunity for some top-notch spoof comedy. A group of soldiers shooting a true-life war film are dumped in the middle of the jungle where they get caught up in a drugs war, which they mistakenly believe is part of the film.
One of the strongest points of Tropic Thunder is actually its opening, which introduces its main characters in a fun and different way: via a series of spoof trailers and mock interviews. Stiller has never been afraid to poke fun at the industry he is involved in and expose its silly side and that's precisely what these trailers do. They will have you laughing out loud and your comedy glands will be salivating in anticipation of a gut-bustingly funny comedy.
Sadly, these trailers prove to be the highlight of the film, and it never really re-captures the spark of those early moments. Certainly, there are plenty of laughs to be had: the idiocy and puffed up self-importance of the actors; the ludicrous image they all try to portray and the sheer madness of a Hollywood shoot. Yet, despite a seemingly unmissable target (can there be any industry in the world as utterly stupid as the Hollywood film business?) it's a hit and miss affair. Some of the jokes hit the bulls eye, others fly well wide of the target. You can't even claim that it's a scattergun approach with the jokes coming thick and fast, so it doesn't matter if some miss, because actually, sometimes the humour is thin on the ground.
Tropic Thunder is at times a little too self-indulgent, concentrating on little in-jokes which will pass over the heads of most cinema-goers. This is Ben Stiller's dig at an industry with which he clearly has a love-hate relationship. Whilst there is certainly plenty of humour to be mined from this, he never quite dares to be as scathing about the Hollywood scene as he was about the fashion one - that, after all, would be akin to career suicide. So, Tropic Thunder lacks that little bit of edge and hard humour which made Zoolander so wonderfully silly.
The in-jokes certainly provide plenty for film geeks to look out for and chuckle over, but the truth is, many will be too obscure for the average cinema goer and so fall on stony ground.
Tropic Thunder isn't helped by a 107 minute running time, which, whilst not long by modern standards, could have benefited from more judicious editing. The at times pedestrian pace rather adds to the feeling that the gags are rather sparse and stretched thinly throughout the film. If the comedy and action sequences had been knitted together more successfully, leaving the more talky bits out, it would have been a much stronger and funnier film.
It's not a dead loss, though. Ben Stiller is always fun to watch and so it proves here, with his bone-headed, fading action-star Tugg Speedman proving the focus of much of the humour. Great value for money, as always, is Robert Downey Jr. as Australian Method Actor Kirk Lazarus. Downey Jr. is clearly having great fun sending up his own image as a serious "ACT-TOR", relishing the chance to exercise his comedy chops again. There's a great deal of chemistry between Downey Jr. and Stiller and they clearly enjoy having the opportunity to take jibes at their mates.
For the rest, though, it's a waste. Jack Black's talents are more or less completely ignored as the drug-dependent Jeff Portnoy: only in one very small section (when tied to a tree) does he show what he's capable of. Jay Baruchel and Brandon T Jackson barely register on the consciousness. Nick Nolte has some fun as an ex-Vietnam vet, whilst there is a startling performance from a Hollywood megastar, heavily made-up and virtually unrecognisable. If you don't know who it is, I'll not spoil it (and if you plan on watching the film, don't look it up on IMDB until afterwards). It's not the sort of performance you would normally associate with this actor, but it's a great role and quite significantly raised my opinion of the person in question.
The problem is that the characters are all too similar - narcissistic, self-obsessed and arrogant, which means there's little to distinguish between them all. As a result, there are few opportunities for "culture-clash" style misunderstandings, or buddy-cop style arguments. At times, Tropic Thunder is crying out for these elements.
Finally, two minor criticisms: there is a huge amount of swearing in this film, considering it's only a 15 and some quite gory effects (admittedly done in a tongue in cheek way). I'm a pretty seasoned cinema-goer, but the level of the language did cause me to raise an eyebrow at the rating it was given.
The second point is this: Tropic Thunder has several digs at blatant product placement in films. These provide some of the few laughs raised by Brandon T Jackson's character... Yet Tropic Thunder itself is horrendously guilty of this (and not in an ironic, tongue in cheek way). It tries to shoehorn everything in there: Nintendo Wii, Blackberry, Playstation 3, Blu-Ray. You name it, it either gets a free name-check or is prominently displayed on-screen several times. For a movie that is criticising such acts, that's pretty hypocritical.
Tropic Thunder never quite manages to live up to expectations. All the ingredients are there and it provides enough laughs not to be a total disaster. But these are too few and far between to consider it either a great film or a great comedy. Over-long and too self-indulgent, I guess we'll have to wait a few more years for the next really great Stiller comedy. Perhaps when that happens, I'll look back on this review and think I was a little harsh- after all, Zoolander initially met with indifference or confused looks at the cinema. I don't think so, though. What we have here is a reasonable comedy that does its job and makes you laugh, but has little to make it stand out from other Hollywood offerings.
Director: Ben Stiller
Running time: approx: 107 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2008
Summary: A blunt, but still watchable Hollywood satire