Tropic Thunder [Blu-Ray]
Director : Ben Stiller
Screenplay : Ben Stiller & Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen (story by Ben Stiller & Justin Theroux)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Ben Stiller (Tugg Speedman), Robert Downey Jr. (Kirk Lazarus), Jack Black (Jeff Portnoy), Jay Baruchel (Kevin Sandusky), Brandon T. Jackson (Alpa Chino), Steve Coogan (Damien Cockburn), Danny McBride (Cod), Nick Nolte (Four Leaf Tayback), Matthew McConaughey (Rick Peck), Brandon Soo Hoo (Tran), Tom Cruise (Les Grossman)
The Canadian journalist and critic Robert Fulford once noted that “the very narcissism of Hollywood becomes part of its charm,” which is an apt description of both Tropic Thunder and its object of satire, which are essentially one in the same. A loud, bombastic, unrepentant, and often hilariously vulgar comedy about a massive war-movie production run amok in Southeast Asia, Ben Stiller’s film is the very thing that it’s mocking, which makes it difficult to discern where the intended laughs end and the unintended ones begin. Like virtually all Hollywood satires, Tropic Thunder makes mincemeat of the movie industry’s self-absorbed excesses while reveling mightily in its own, and that tendency seems all the more extravagant given the film’s enormous budget and spectacular effects.
The idea is that a first-time director (Steve Coogan) is already overbudget and up to his neck in delays while shooting a Vietnam war epic on location (the Apocalypse Now references are so thick you can cut them with a knife). He is also hobbled by his star actors, each of whom represents a particularly virulent strain of movie star mentality, running the gamut from the vain and talentless to the vain and uncompromising. Each of these actors is introduced by a faux movie trailer at the beginning of the film, which turns out to be a particularly clever and funny way to establish both the characters and the tone of the film’s barely exaggerated riff on Hollywood hokum.
Leading the bunch is Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), a self-absorbed dim-bulb whose career is in jeopardy since his apocalyptic action franchise is running out of steam after the sixth entry and his attempt at serious acting in an offensive trifle called Simple Jack about a mentally challenged farm hand was a flop (this subplot drew the ire of various constituencies that missed the point that the joke is about Hollywood’s condescending embrace of actors who play mentally challenged characters, not about those with mental disabilities). Then there’s Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a manic comedian with a drug problem who’s trying to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor, which is the province of Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), a five-time Oscar-winning thespian from Australia who digs so deep into his characters that he refuses to come up for air until he’s recorded the DVD commentary. This time he has gone all out by undergoing a radical pigmentation alteration so that he can play a black soldier. This, naturally, doesn’t sit very well with Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), an actual black rapper-turned-actor (although I’m not sure if he’s more annoyed by a white Australian taking the movie’s primo African American role or the fact that Lazarus seems to have developed his black persona via a diet of ’70s blaxploitation movies and episodes of Sanford & Son).
At the behest of Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), the grizzled Vietnam vet on whose memoir the movie is based, the director drops his pampered stars in the middle of the jungle where they are to be filmed guerilla-style while Danny McBride’s pyrotechnic expert detonates things from afar (as he did in Pineapple Express, McBride effortlessly steals every scene he’s in). Unfortunately, there are a few unforeseen circumstances, particularly the presence of a vicious drug cartel that mistakes Speedman and company for the real deal.
The script by Stiller, actor Justin Theroux, and Idiocracy cowriter Etan Cohen shifts us back and forth between the absurdity in the jungle and the absurdity in southern California, which is represented by Matthew McConaughey’s tanned and blow-dried agent who mistakes the drug cartel’s ransom demands for another agency vying for Speedman’s contract and Tom Cruise’s profane studio executive, who alternates screaming obscenities at his minions with impromptu club dancing. Cruise, in one of the film’s superstar cameos, is as good as you could possibly hope for, even though the role absolutely reeks of his trying to win back his audience after several years of public relations disasters with some self-deprecating humor.
Pound for pound, Tropic Thunder is funnier and more provocative than any comedy of the past summer, although mostly in spite of its satirical agenda. Hollywood has been skewered so many times and so many times better (think of David Mamet’s State and Main, Robert Altman’s The Player, or any recent episode of Entourage) that it’s hard to get too excited about yet another Hollywood production jabbing at the hand that feeds. Some of the jokes are simply too old, such as Portnoy’s flatulent-happy movie series The Fatties, which is a stale parody of Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor movies, the last of which came out in, oh, 2000. However, any and all misfire gags and missed opportunities are redeemed by Robert Downey, Jr., whose potentially disastrous blackface routine is one of the funniest bits of performance art to come out of a Hollywood film in years.
Returning to the director’s chair for the first time since 2001’s underrated fashion industry satire Zoolander, Ben Stiller ensures that Tropic Thunder looks as good as any Hollywood war movie, with the heat of real locations, the grandeur of pyrotechnic scope, and the kind of brutally visceral violence that has been de rigeur since Steven Spielberg’s rapid-shutter cameras stormed the beach in Saving Private Ryan (the cinematography is by Oscar winner John Toll). This is certainly Stiller’s most ambitious film visually, and he proves to be quite remarkable in orchestrating violence and chaos while also maintaining a comic sensibility. Tropic Thunder may be about the silliness of Hollywood’s play-acting in the jungle, but Stiller can’t help but indulge in it at every possible turn, which is either the film’s most cannily self-reflexive characteristic or proof that this is really just a war movie pretending to be a satire about one.
|Tropic Thunder Director’s Cut Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, Portuguese, French|
|Distributor||DreamWorks Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||November 18, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Given that much of the film plays with the same outsized visual and acoustic bombast of an actual action movie, the director’s cut of Tropic Thunder on Blu-Ray is destined to give your system a workout. The cinematography by Oscar winner John Toll looks absolutely superb in 1080p, with crisp detail that looks particularly impressive in long shots, strong color saturation (especially the dense greens of the surrounding jungle), and excellent black levels. The darker scenes look good, with first-rate contrast and shadow detail. The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround soundtrack is very aggressive, with a heavy low end and plenty of action in the surround channels to envelope you during the action sequences (not to mention the nonstop flatulence of Jack Black’s Fatties trailer).|
|The supplements begin with two audio commentaries. The first, a “Filmmakers’ Commentary,” features director/star Ben Stiller, executive producer Justin Theroux, producer Stuart Cornfeld, production designer Jeff Mann, cinematographer John Toll, and film editor Greg Hayden, all of whom were recorded together. If you’re looking for some actual information about the film’s production, this is the way to go. The second commentary features actors Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr., and if you’re wanting to hear three talented actors cutting up and joking around for two hours (including Downey Jr. pulling a Kirk Lazarus by doing the entire commentary in character), this is your ticket. |
The majority of the other supplements are featurettes, all of which are presented in high-definition. “Before the Thunder” (5 min.) explores the initial ideas behind the film and includes brief footage of one of the initial table reads of the script. “The Hot LZ” (6:25) looks at the special effects, previsualization, and stunt work involved in the film’s biggest action sequence. “Blowing Shit Up” (6:18) is about, well, the pyrotechnics and squib effects used to blow stuff up in the movie. “Designing the Thunder” (7:30) focuses on the production design and the location shooting on the island of Kaua’i. “The Cast of Tropic Thunder” is actually a collection of mini-featurettes (22 minutes total) about the main actors in the film: Stiller, Black, Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Nick Nolte. The funniest supplement is Rain of Madness, a half-hour Hearts of Darkness-style mock-documentary about the Vietnam film’s production that some may have seen on iTunes. Still, it’s great to have it on this disc and in high-def to boot. Almost as funny is the minute and a half of make-up test footage of Tom Cruise doing his unique hip-hop dance routine. Stiller and editor Greg Hayden then introduce two deleted scenes, two extended scenes, and an alternate ending, each of which has optional commentary. They also introduce “Full Mags,” which is essentially 11 minutes of raw footage of Stiller and Downey Jr. performing the “I know who I am” conversation. Lastly, the disc includes the hilarious video Stiller, Black, and Downey Jr. made for this year’s MTV Movie Awards. BD Live content includes additional “Full Mags” and video rehearsals.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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