Tropic Thunder

August 21st, 2008 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Why do we need another comedy satirising Hollywood? It’s been done so many times it’s nearly a genre in itself.

The reason they keep coming and we keep enjoying them is because of that other feature of successful satire — it’s funny. And Tropic Thunder is, in a very subtle way not unlike some of the better films of Will Ferrell, with authentic touches in context with the film but with that ‘just too far’ edge.

Surprisingly, Tropic Thunder doesn’t have a funny premise. A troupe of Hollywood stars thinking they’re filming a Vietnam movie guerrilla style with no idea everything going on around them is real is the same conceit as the seldom-seen Bill Murray comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little, to name just one.

But it has a lot of side-splitting moments thanks to the characters. There’s Ben Stiller as Tugg Speedman, a fading action star desperate for a hit after his latest failed effort at serious drama. Jack Black is Jeff Portnoy, a heroin-addicted comic specialist whose signature franchise is a fat family who fart a lot. And Robert Downey Jr is Australian dramatic tour de force Kirk Lazarus, playing an afro-American drill sergeant and determined to stay in character the whole time.

The trio are part of a small platoon sent into the jungle to complete filming after their spoiled antics threaten to derail the Vietnam epic. Their director (Coogan) can’t keep them under control, and when threatened by his alpha male producer (a barely recognisable Cruise), he takes them into the deepest jungle away from the hotel massage service and catering, tells them he’s rigged cameras throughout the area and will make men out of them while he gets the movie in the can.

But the first step he takes after his speech is on a land mine and he’s blown to smithereens. The clueless stars think it’s part of the gag and proceed to plunge into the jungle with guns blazing where they’ll come across a deep cover drug refining operation which they believe is their antagonists in the film.

The sharpest scenes aren’t actually of the self-absorbed actors getting into more trouble, but of Tugg’s agent Rick (McConaghuey) and Cruise as the profane, impatient and unshakeable uber-producer Les Grossman trying to sort the mess out back home.

Cruise gets the first honourable mention. Just when we’re ready to dismiss him after another string of Tom-is-hero films and increasingly loopy off-screen behaviour, he adds another role on a par with Magnolia’s Frank Macke to his name.

But the other goes to Downey Jr. Just a few years back he couldn’t stay out of jail and no studio would touch him. But so far in 2008, his charismatic performances have driven two films to the top of the box office (along with Iron Man). And here, his talent is on a par with every other element of Tropic Thunder.

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