Tropic Thunder (2008) – Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller directed the ultimate Hollywood satire with Tropic Thunder. He developed the story with Justin Theroux, and the pair wrote a script with Ethan Cohen. It’s sharp, pointed, and under its endlessly quotable dialogue and performances is a skewering look at Tinsel Town. Everything seems to be a lie, from promotions to images to actors and set pieces.

Stiller cast himself, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise, and it ends up being a balls-to-the-wall profanity-filled action comedy.

Downey’s performance is the one that has garnered the most attention and an Oscar nomination. He plays an Australian method actor who dons blackface for his role in the film. Downey, even recently, has commented on the film, and his performance, so I won’t address it here, but the wrongness of his wearing blackface is the point of the character, it’s even called out by Alpha Chino (Jackson) in the film.

The film is about a group of actors, all of them recognizable Hollywood stereotypes, who are working on what is supposed to be the best Vietnam war epic ever made, based on the book by Four Leaf Tayback (Nolte), which was supposed to document his experiences.

He pushes the director (Coogan) who is having a hard time with his prima donna cast, Downey’s method actor, Lazarus, Tugg Speedman (Stiller) an action star in need of a hit and who may not be as good an actor as his agent (McConaughey) would have him believe, drug-addled comedian Jeff Portnoy (Black) who has made a career with fart movies, Chino who is using the film as a platform to promote his other revenue streams, and a young actor who does the work, Kevin Sandusky (Baruchel), to put the platoon in the middle of the jungle and shoot the film guerrilla-style to get the best performances.

With help from his effects expert, Cody (McBride) the jungle is wired with cameras and explosives. As the cast clash and tries to make it through scenes, they are unaware that they have crossed into actual danger when they come across a drug-running outfit.

Satirical, laugh-out-loud funny, pointed, and filled with commentary, Tropic Thunder is a damn funny film. Nothing is left unskewered by Stiller’s film, acting processes, producers, agents, excess, contracts, performances, camera set-ups and creative disagreements, it’s all there.

It had been a while since I watched this one but it still pays off and knows how to make its point. It also made me laugh… a lot.

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