“Man, this was the biggest dichotomy I ever had on a job: it was the single most difficult job, yet the most fun I’ve ever had, ever. To get to have an M-16 in my hands every day for 5 months, running around in the jungle, jumping in the water, and then to be able to make jokes while you’re doing it… And then to be on screen with Jack Black and fucking Robert Downey Jr. and Nick Nolte and Ben Stiller… I had such an amazing time! I saw in that movie by far the coolest shit I’ve ever seen in any movie. I’ll just give you this as an example: when we were shooting in Hawaii, the new Indiana Jones was shooting on one of the other islands, and they had 25 stuntmen. We had 50! When you have twice as many stunt-guys as Indiana Jones, what does that tell you about the movie? I just showed up every day to work, and there was fucking 50 extras and 50 stunt-guys and 3 helicopters, and they napalmed the tree-line, and they did it old-school, like Apocalypse Now, no CGI, it’s 1200 gallons of fuel, man. As funny as it is, it also kicks you in the fucking teeth! Between that and Pineapple Express, it’s a great summer for action comedy.”
Shit, Negro, that’s all you had to say! Seriously, once my fellow Montrealer Jay Baruchel went on the above tirade during my recent interview with him, I was pretty sold on “Tropic Thunder”. Having finally seen the film, though, it wasn’t quite what I expected. On the one hand, I didn’t find it that funny. Oh, I did laugh out loud 25-30 times, which is not bad at all, but it wasn’t non-stop laugher, alright?
Still, even between the great gags, the movie kept me involved because, against all odds, it actually almost works as a straight war film… “Tropic Thunder” recalls not only “Apocalypse Now”, but “Platoon” and somewhat more lowbrow pictures like the “Rambo” and “Missing in Action” flicks as well. Actually, it also calls to mind “¡Three Amigos!”, in which a trio of actors were called to a Mexican village besieged by outlaws, unaware that this wasn’t make-believe but a real-life clusterfuck. As such, “Tropic Thunder” features a group of Hollywood stars shooting a Vietnam picture who, after one too many prima donna excesses, find themselves thrown into actual chaos and guerrilla combat by the film’s director (Steve Coogan) and the grizzled Nam veteran (Nick Nolte) whose book inspired the movie…
Hence, what we’ve got here is a film that works on multiple levels. There’s the classic Vietnam flick that is being shot by the characters, there’s the incisive satire about how said characters are all a bunch of insecure fucked up actors then, most improbably yet satisfyingly, there’s how the cast of the movie-within-the-movie finds itself actually fully going into character, throwing themselves into action and becoming heroes… All of which is surprisingly effectively conveyed by writer/director/star Ben Stiller and, not so surprisingly, by cinematographer John Toll, who also shot “Braveheart” and “The Thin Red Line”, of all things.
Beside Coogan, Nolte and Stiller, who plays a has been action star who unsuccessfully attempted to gain dramatic credibility by going “full retard” in an Oscar-bait movie, the film stars Jack Black as the heroin-addicted star of the “Fatties” franchise, which involves him playing multiple characters in fat suits and farting a lot; Robert Downey Jr. as an Australian actor Method enough to shame Russell Crowe, so Method, in fact, that he undergoes a controversial medical procedure to play the movie’s African-American sergeant; Brandon T. Jackson as an actually Black rapper-turned-actor who resents how that “Kangoroo Jack” dude’s conception of acting Black mostly involves 1970s pop culture clichés; and my man Jay Baruchel as the youngest, but probably smartest cast member. Oh, and let’s not forget Danny McBride who once again steals many a scene as a pyrotechnics expert, Matthew McConaughey as Stiller’s douche bag agent and Tom Cruise as the fat, balding, spectacularly foul-mouthed head of the studio producing the movie-within-the-movie!
So “Tropic Thunder” is indeed pretty damn funny, on top of actually being a pretty damn good war movie, and the combination of the two is not too shabby! I still think that Pineapple Express remains the comedy to beat this year, but Stiller’s movie is not that far behind.