Featuring dazzling performances from Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr, Tropic Thunder is a far from typical Hollywood war movie, writes Paul Fennessey.
Directed, starring and co-written by Ben Stiller, Tropic Thunder is undoubtedly one of this year’s best comedies. It has more piercing wit and laugh out loud gags in one scene than most comedies can conjure up in an entire movie.
Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr all star as eccentric actors who are involved in a disastrous film shoot and are struggling with problems involving insecurity, drugs and identity.
After their war movie goes drastically over-budget, the highly strung studio mogul, Les Grossman (played exceptionally well by an unrecognisable Tom Cruise), threatens to shut down the production unless the film’s problems are corrected immediately.
The emotionally frazzled director (Steve Coogan) at the helm of the shoot is then convinced by Leaf Tayback, the war veteran whose memoir the story is based upon, to shoot scenes guerrilla style using hidden cameras in the midst of a vast jungle.
As the actors wander through the jungle, they unwittingly stumble upon the natives’ heroin hideout. Fearlessly, they confront these criminals, all the while believing that their actions are part of the script.
The fact that Tropic Thunder’s plot is completely unrealistic is in itself a parody of some of the ludicrous conceits of its more serious minded predecessors such as Apocalypse Now.
The film’s humour is in fact so surreal and clever that it has almost inevitably been misinterpreted in some quarters. While it is often gleefully anti-PC, the claim that some of Tropic Thunder’s gags are offensive to disabled people is entirely without merit.
The jokes in question mainly revolve around Ben Stiller’s character, Tugg Speedman, and his past attempts to win an Oscar by portraying a disabled person.
In one of the funniest scenes, it’s pointed out that previous Oscar winners – Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, played characters who, while being mentally impaired, did not technically befit the term ‘disabled’.
He subsequently congratulates Tugg for being the first high-profile star ‘to go fully retarded’.
Despite Tropic Thunder‘s many collective virtues, its single most impressive feature is the stunning performance of the ever-watchable Robert Downey Jr. He plays an Australian actor who deeply immerses himself in roles.
In order to portray a black soldier, he undergoes skin pigmentation treatment and he subsequently insists on perpetually acting like this person, affirming: ‘I don’t drop character until I’ve done the DVD Commentary’.
Accordingly, the film is as much a dissertation on Hollywood’s insensitive approach to difficult subjects like war and racism, as it is a surreal laugh-out loud farce. While the humour occasionally falls flat during the final third, it still contains a number of memorable moments, with Cruise dancing dementedly to hip hop music being among the highlights of this uproarious comedy.