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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Tropic Thunder

Synopsis

Ben Stiller is starring as Tugg Speedman, an action movie star who, along with four other macho co-stars, is forced to rely on his boot camp skills to stay alive when things go horribly awry on their new movie. Ben co-wrote the comedy screenplay with Justin Theroux (Zoolander, Charlie's Angels Full Throttle) and Etan Cohen (Idiocracy). Jack Black will play Jeff “Fats” Portnoy, an overweight gross-out comedian from "The Fatties" franchise, who’s forced to kick his drug addiction while filming on location in the jungle.

Also starring are Robert Downey as Kirk Lazarus, the greatest actor of his generation and a four-time Oscar winner. Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up) will play Kevin Sandusky, an unknown actor on the set. Brandon T. Jackson plays multi-platinum hip-hop-star-turned-entrepreneur-turned-actor Alpa Chino.

Review

by Drew Hunt, Senior Editor

Before the credits even hit the screen, Tropic Thunder is already skewing mainstream Hollywood culture. As the faux-commercial for the energy drink Booty Sweat ended, my fellow audience members vocalized their bewilderment: “What was that? Was that a commercial?”, “That wasn’t real, was it?”, “No, I’m pretty sure I’ve had Booty Sweat before”, “No, that was fake. Wasn’t it?”, “I dunno, it looked pretty real”, “I’m confused…”

And with that, writer/producer/director/star Ben Stiller’s bitingly satirical romp was in full force. Straight out of the gate, Tropic Thunder is a pure comedic thrill ride. As helicopters cut through the sky and machine guns blast in surround sound, the film has the legitimate feel of a war epic-- a great achievement on the behalf of Stiller, who’s last directorial effort was the much simpler (yet innately classic) Zoolander. But as soon as you’ve braced yourself for a two-and-half-hour epic, there’s Jack Black, hanging from a helicopter; there’s Knocked Up’s Jay Baruchel, his insides helplessly and haphazardly falling out of him; and then there’s Stiller, playing fading action star Tugg Speedman, taking bullet after comedic bullet, as he gracefully falls to the ground in a sarcastic scene that truly sets the tone.

The concept of the film is inherently clever: A band of prima donna Hollywood actors is making the Vietnam War saga "Tropic Thunder" (the movie within the movie) in Southeast Asia when the higher-ups becomes frustrated with the inflated budget and lack of footage. To remedy this issue, first-time director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) and writer John "Four Leaf" Tayback (Nick Nolte) conceive a plan to place the actors in a guerrilla-like atmosphere, in order to capture real-time emotions. That's when they encounter the real guns of a heroin cartel, led by a sawed-off 12-year-old terrorist. And had that been the best thing about the film, it wouldn't be the treat it is. The real fun comes in the characterizations dreamt up by Stiller and his collaborators.

The casting in this film is, for the most part, pitch perfect (though Matthew McConaughey is no Owen Wilson). Matching Tugg in diva tantrums and insecurity is famed comic and dope fiend Jeff Portnoy, played deftly by Frat Pack member Jack Black. Portnoy is best known for "The Fatties," a movie series in which he portrays an entire family of prodigious farters. This is Black’s zaniest performance since School of Rock, truly letting go of any inhibitions. From start to finish he is loud, crude and hysterical. And large props must go to Danny McBride, who seems to just get funnier and funnier in each role. He’s consistently a scene-stealer as Cody, the special-effects techie with an itch to pull the kaboom trigger, despite having almost blinded Jamie Lee Curtis on Freaky Friday. And whoever played the foul-mouthed, egocentric, studio head Les Grossman has a big, big future ahead of him. Oh, wait, that was Tom Cruise -- and whether he's calling his hapless assistant (the invaluable Bill Hader) a "nutless monkey" or indulging in a happy dance that must be seen to believe, he's an absolute riot.

The award for best in show, however, has to go to Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, an Aussie actor who has already collected five Oscars prior to playing Sgt. Lincoln Osiris in "Tropic Thunder." A method actor known for losing himself in his roles, Kirk undergoes a skin pigmentation procedure and alters his voice to better suit the African American sergeant. This Chicken George routine pisses off Alpa Chino (a terrific Brandon T. Jackson), the hip-hop hitmaker hired to bring street cred to the movie. Alpa can't stop Kirk from talking black even when the camera stops rolling. "I don't break character ‘til the DVD commentary," says Kirk. Downey obviously had a ball with the role, and is so off-the-wall, side-splittingly hilarious that you’ll be quoting him for the rest of the night -- his explanation to Stiller about the dangers of going "full retard" if you want to win an Oscar belongs in a comedy time capsule.

Sure, it can be a bit much at points – it’s silly, shallow and way too inside in some respects. But the unflinching skewering of so many taboos, whether they be social, cinematic or otherwise, make Tropic Thunder worth the seven years it took to get Ben Stiller back in the director’s chair. There is a shrewd method to his madness. Every character in Tropic Thunder is delusional. Having given up on truth, they still do their damnedest to fake it. So obviously, Stiller knows firsthand that Hollywood is a microcosm for a world that has swallowed its own marketing strategy, and he has successfully managed to viciously bite the hand that consistently feeds him.

For better or worse, it’s a genius tactic.

*****

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Teaser Site Photos

Tropic Thunder Ben Stiller
Tropic Thunder Jack Black
Tropic Thunder Robert Downey Jr.
Tropic Thunder Danny McBride
Tropic Thunder Nick Nolte
Tropic Thunder Jay Baruchel

Photos

Spy Photos

Tom Cruise as a fat, bald studio head
Ben Stiller Surfing (see more photos from this set)
Nick Nolte Spotted in a Hawaiian Supermarket Prior to Filming
Jack Goes Blonde for his Role

Profile of Up and Coming Fratter, Jay Baruchel

There's a nice profile of Jay Baruchel from his native Canada. He's featured prominently in the Knocked Up trailer and is gearing up for a big role in a future Frat Pack Classic, Tropic Thunder. Now is a good time to learn more about this promising actor.

The $100-million (U.S.) Ben Stiller-directed Tropic Thunder will have him spending three months in Hawaii and another month in L.A.

On the phone Thursday from his N.D.G apartment, Baruchel was pumped to talk about this ambitious DreamWorks production, calling it "the biggest opportunity I've ever had."

Baruchel will star alongside Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. in this comedy about a gang of actors shooting a Vietnam War flick somewhere in southeast Asia who are thrust into a real-life battle. Baruchel plays the youngest of the actors, a wet-behind-the-ears newcomer.

Baruchel - whose biggest movie to date was the Clint Eastwood Oscar-winner Million Dollar Baby - has plenty of other exciting stuff to talk about, including his next film release, Knocked Up, a comedy from The 40-Year-Old Virgin writer-director Judd Apatow due in theatres on June 1; the Weinstein Company comedy Fanboys, set to hit screens across North America in August; and the Canadian hit-man laugher Real Time.

His spirits pick up when we start talking about Tropic Thunder, which he describes as "Three Amigos or Galaxy Quest in 'Nam." He said he and Stiller immediately connected. "We have a kind of shared heritage, with the whole half-Irish, half-Jewish thing," said Baruchel, who leaves for Hawaii in mid-July. "So we got off on that foot. We just talked about what movies we thought were funny." (Gazette)