Sometimes a film maker likes to bite the hand that feeds him and make a movie that takes on his own industry. The format is typically to show a movie within a movie; that is depicts making a phony flick has the focus of he real film. One of the best of this very specific genre to come around in a long time is ‘Tropic Thunder’. It is a great dark comedy that cuts to the heart of the movie industry and brings the audience along on a wild and funny ride. The film is about a group of actors who are, shall we say, not the sharpest knives in the draw, who are on location for a film and get captured by a group of drug dealers. It also breaks a lot of the normal rules and expectations of a Hollywood film. This is an ‘R’ rated comedy that is not centered on a group of horny twenty somethings out for a good time with sex, drugs and alcohol. It is a more intelligent band of raunchy humor with a plot that does more than provide a scaffold for the naughtier scenes. This is a smartly done parody of the world of film making on just about every level. The film makes no apologies for bringing the overt narcissism of the movie world to light. It delights in slamming the system that made them famous and rich. This is definitely not the film for those out there who subscribe to the current trend in political correctness. It rushes up to the line of good taste and blithely leaps over it. There is more than a little irony here that the film was released by Dreamworks, the more adult branch of the Disney Empire. The Disney Company has returned to the old studio system with its tween stars but in this division that is not the market they are trying to capture. There has been a lot of controversy about some of the portrayals in this film. It has angered a few socially active groups. It also used all the modern ways of advertising including fake web sites and viral marketing to get the word out. Now, Dreamworks has released this film to DVD and Blu-ray so you can enjoy it at home. This is a perfect movie to have some friends over and just forget the cares of the world for a couple of hours.
The script for the flick was penned by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen. The Cohen in this case is not the Ethan Cohen of the famous writing and directing team; the Cohen Brothers. His writing career is full of politically correct faire including for television ‘King of the Hill’ and ‘Bevis and Butt-Hhead’. In the film world the titles pretty much say it all; ‘Idiocracy’ and ‘My Wife is Retarded’. This is the first screenplay for Theroux but he has been tapped to work on the script for the upcoming ‘Iron Man 2’. Most of his work has been with serious parts in film and television. He played John Handcock in the acclaimed HBO mini series ‘John Adams’ as well as having recurring roles in ‘Six Feet Under’ and ‘The District’. The most familiar name here is Stiller. As the son of the comedy team Stiller and Meara he was brought up around show business and comedy. He has a long list of credits as an actor but so far his only other major screenplay was for his send up of the fashion industry, ‘Zoolander’. All of these men are part of a tight group that has worked with each other before. Such familiarity is necessary for a film of this sort. It would tend to open up a type of shotgun writing where ideas fly around and are criticized by each other. No matter how they did it they succeeded here. The script is crazy with a ridiculous premise and far fetched concepts. The script takes aim and race, mental disabilities, foul language, sexual orientation and just about anything else you can imagine.
Ben Stiller also directed this movie. He has some experience with off bet films in this aspect of his long career. He started with episodes of his own television series and made his feature length directorial debut with the cult classic ‘Reality Bites’. Okay, he also was responsible for ‘Cable Guy’ and ‘Zoolander’ but even those flicks had their comic moments. It should come as no surprise that Stiller is an actor’s director. He places more emphasis on presenting the performances than any fancy camera work or lighting tricks. Stiller is straightforward in his style. He knows that this project attracted some of the wackiest comedians, best actors and crew around so he did the right thing in trusting them as the professionals they are. He is a well respected member of the community he spoofs here. The list of cameo appearances represents a good slice of the A List.
The film within the film is the story of a fake ‘real’ Vietnam veteran, John "Four Leaf" Tayback's (Nick Nolte). The film version is given by the obnoxious studio executive Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) and director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan). When a huge explosion goes off without being filmed the production goes way over budget and Grossman threatens to close it down. The solution is to rig a part of the jungle with hidden cameras and just drop the cast into it. The cast is not very aware of what is going on but try to stay in character just in case a camera is on them. The group includes Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.), rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and character actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). Lazarus is a multiple Oscar winner who uses the most extreme form of method acting techniques. For this role he had his skin surgically dyed so he would look black. He constantly stays in character and may believe he is black at this point. Portnoy is a drugged out comedian and Speedman is a former big time action star at the trailing end of his career. After the accidental death of the director, that the actors think was part of the film, the group is lost in the jungle. They come across a band of drug deals who mistake them for DEA agents. The treatment they receive from the dealers is far from what a group of pampered actors expected.
Dreamworks releases this film to DVD and Blu-ray with style. The DVD version has an anamorphic 2.35:1 video and Dolby 5.1 audio. The Blu-ray version features 1080p video and True HD video. It takes a second disc on DVD to hold all the extras. This is an irreverent film and dark comedy at its best. It is almost impossible to compare this film to anything else you have seen.