The film opens with a number of faux trailers and commercials for the stars in the film and they are pretty funny, but I won’t spoil those here; but they aren’t quite as good as Grindhouse. We then open on the filming of a major battle scene before focusing on a touching moment between a dying “Foley” and “Sgt. Osiris”. Unfortunately, Tugg Speedman, the actor portraying Foley can’t cry on cue and they miss a big “one time” shot where they napalm the tree line behind all of the drama happening on screen. Cut to Access Hollywood who gives us a background on the film, it is based on a memoir of a man, the real Foley (Nick Nolte), who returned from a top secret suicide mission during the Vietnam War, it stars action superstar Tugg Speedman, comedy mega star Jeff Portnoy, and method award winner Kurt Lazarus. The film is way over budget, is being sloppily handled by a first time director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), and is being over produced by the studio’s mega psychotic producer.
Cockburn, in desperation to get his movie back on track, turns to Foley who suggests they drop the actors in the middle of the Jungle and simulate the battles while shooting guerilla style in the woods. So Cockburn and Foley, with the assistance of pyro expert of the film Cody, air drop the actors in the Jungle ready to start blowing stuff up around them while they act out their scenes. Unfortunately for the actors, they are spotted by a group of drug dealers who are producing heroin in the jungle and are mistaken for a D.E.A. task force coming in to shut them down; and mis-conception hilarity ensues.
First off, the film is ridiculously silly. It isn’t trying to be high brow or classy, it is trying to be a fun and crazy farce that is still smart at skewering what it is aiming for. The absurdity is on par or higher then Stiller’s Zoolander and knowing that going in helps you to be able to better take the material. The film is also gory, so the faint of heart might want to be prepared for some grotesque violence at times. The film is also a bit all over the place, while remaining fairly coherent, but it does meander occasionally; thankfully to funny antidotes that are worth the detour most of the time.
The acting in the film is excellent as everyone involved perfectly buys in to what they are doing. The weakest turn is by Matthew McConaughey, but he is still funny, and I think the only reason I had any problem with him is because you could tell it was written for Owen Wilson and he would have fit perfectly. Ben Stiller plays the dumb action star bit to a T in Tugg Speedman. Walking into danger with reckless abandoned. Jack Black plays Jeff Portnoy who is a tweaked out addict off his rocker as he is out of drugs in the jungle; Black also gets to spout one of the best monologues in the film. Danny McBride delivers quite a few good one liners and has some great banter with a shell shocked Nick Nolte. Jay Baruchel plays the straight man of the group while also serving as a tool for loss of innocence in the film. Brandon T. Jackson also does an excellent job as the entrepreneur rap star, Alpa Chino, trying to make a name for himself in almost every medium. Nolte also does a decent job as the crazy ex-vet with no hands that is out to get more than he might let on. Robert Downey Jr. steals the show though as Kirk Lazarus, who after under going a controversial procedure dyeing himself black, stays in character as the 1960’s black man over the course of the whole film. It is an impressive feat, borderline offensive to African American’s, but always funny in the end. Some of the things he says are just so ridiculous I was saying “what?” out loud on a number of occasions. The reason this caricature works though is because the film is so ridiculous that we can accept this parody and just find the humor in the absurdity.
In the end, Tropic Thunder is at times a brilliant farce that has a couple of dropped notes along the way. The movie is filled with far more laughs than the few jokes that fall flat and