Reviews & Previews - Tropic Thunder

Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 06:00 PM

Tropic Thunder

By: S. Tran

Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black
Directed By: Ben Stiller
Running Time: 107 minutes
Rated: Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material.

High Concept Satire

Thunder Tropic is the latest offering by Ben Stiller who has created an entire cottage industry based on films where he basically plays the same dim witted character. You would think the act is getting old by now and you would be right to a point. Tropic Thunder doesn't feel played out though because this time Stiller has surrounded himself with a funny cast and created a pretty original concept to provide the laughs so he doesn't need to carry the whole film. The faux trailers that open the film are dead on spoofs of the overblown trailers we're so used to seeing today and foreshadow the skewering of Hollywood that is to come.

Stiller is Tugg Speedman, a walking cliche action star trying keep his fading career going and establish  himself as a serious actor in a Vietnam war movie. He's joined by Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr.) the hyper-intense, "serious" actor and Jeff Portnoy (Black) as the comedic burnout. The serious fun begins when the actors find themselves encountering an Asian drug cartel run by a pre-teen gang leader,  (Brandon Soo Hoo) who reminded me of Short Round from the Indiana Jones movies.

While we expect the laughs from Stiller and Black, Downey Jr. is a big surprise as Lazarus. If he keeps up this kind of work he will be the owner of the biggest career comeback award, if he didn't already win it after Iron Man. Downey Jr. gets to let loose as a white actor trying to play an African American. While it sounds offensive it actually isn't as Lazarus is mocked throughout the film for trying to do something so ridiculous. All three stars do a great job playing these caricatures and look like they are having a great time.

Even if you have good actors a high concept comedy like this can get bogged down if there is only one gag stretched out over two hours. Take any movie based on the Saturday Night Live skits as perfect examples. Something funny for 5 minutes is really unfunny after 15 minutes. Give Stiller serious credit as a director and writer for making sure that there are steady laughs throughout the film. Also give him credit for understanding his craft enough to know that this isn't Schindler's List. The film moves along at a nice pace and refrains from going on too long.

While the main story line delivers the subplots involving Speedman's agent and the film's producer are terrific and support the film nicely. The movie avoids the trap of having some lame subplot that drags it down. Here the subplot dovetails nicely with the main story and generates some good laughs of its own. Stiller managed to bring some serious star power to the film and the cameos by some Hollywood heavyweights are hilarious. I won't give anything away here but one superstar actor redeems himself a bit after a couple of downer years career-wise.

Overall this is the best Ben Stiller film in a while. This may be like saying you are the best swimmer in the desert, but in the case the final result is actually quite good. While not on the level of something like the  40 Year Old Virgin, it will still make you laugh enough to make you feel like you got your money's worth.


3.5 stars out of 5.


NOTE: The showtimes listed on come directly from the theatres' announced schedules, which are distributed to us on a weekly basis. All showtimes are subject to change without notice or recourse to