Tropic Thunder

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Tropic Thunder

Release Date: August 13
Director: Ben Stiller
Writer: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen
Cinematographer: John Toll
Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Steve Coogan
Studio/Run Time: Dreamworks, 107 mins.

Everyone wants to have their action-movie cake and blow it up, too. Whether it’s Pineapple Express getting serious about getting stoned, or Hot Fuzz lovingly goofing on cop flicks, some writers and directors can’t help but try their hand at legit, high five-worthy explosions while cracking jokes on the genre at the same time.

Enter Tropic Thunder. Directed and co-written by Ben Stiller, the movie follows a group of coddled, egotistical actors and an inexperienced director bestowed with the task of shooting the most expensive war movie ever made. Something like five days into shooting, the film is two months behind schedule and millions (or billions) of dollars over budget (the absurdity of which makes for one of the movie’s better jokes).

To put the actors in place and respond to the demands of an unhappy studio exec (a balding, beer-bellied and hairy-chested Tom Cruise), the director (Steve Coogan) decides to throw the actors into the jungles of Southeast Asia and shoot the film “guerilla style,” until the group runs into the compound of a dangerous drug lord.

While Thunder oftentimes falls back on tired gags (Jack Black’s character explaining a ridiculous plan to save the day against heroic music, which cuts to blank stares) and gross-out humor (farts, anyone?), it has its clever moments. These largely come by way of its meta-cinematic foundation, where exaggerations of Hollywood are played out on screen.

Not only are the actors in question caricatures (see Robert Downey Jr.’s method-to-the-extreme acting), but even the tropes of action-movie making are played with.
After an enormous, crucial explosion, the camera takes the perspective of Tugg Speedman (Stiller) on the ground, watching the destructive aftershock in oneiric slow motion. The camera then pans across Jeff Portnoy (Black) in the haze, writhing in pain. Through the muffled soundtrack he mouths, “My ass!” Awesome.

While Thunder occasionally misses its mark, or delves into too-long action sequences (the endless escaping-the-drug-runner-compound scene, for example), it is otherwise a fun and funny movie. Keeping in mind that it's a highly self-conscious parody of Hollywood will save one a lot of indignant grief, too.