The Red Right Hand

The Movie They Think They're Making... Isn't A Movie Anymore

Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller
Robert Downey Jr.
Jack Black

Reality Bites, The Cable Guy and Zoolander... didn't like them. I don't care what people say, I don't care how many times I watch them, I simply do not like them. I laughed here and there but wouldn't give any of them above 6/10. That's a sad, cold truth that many people have to deal with and others delude themselves with. They think because I like movies, I must have loved the films they enjoy. Wrong. I don't like Stiller's comedies, I find them a little stupid and unchallenging. There, I said it. So when I say I really enjoyed Tropic Thunder, I need you to understand that I would never say such a thing lightly.

Now, I've wasted a lot of my summer, sitting through a lot of supposed yank comedies; material that I was expected to find hilariously entertaining and funny and was simply appalled by. I am, of course, referring to titles like The Love Guru, You Don't Mess With The Zohan and Disaster Movie. I'm not a toff, far from it; I greatly enjoy stupid, benile comedies when they're done well. Thankfully, Stiller's latest release is witty, clever and openly challenges the whole movie-making industry from the pre-production process to the glitzy award ceremonies. The plot sees three unlikely leads combining forces to make an all-out, big budget adaptation of Vietnam vet, Four-leaf Tayback's [Nick Nolte] biographical tale. Tugg Speedman [Stiller] is your typical over-the-hill action star whose trying to revive his career after the release of a grossly offensive flop about a mentally handicapped farm-hand called Simple Jack. The second lead is a heroin addicted comedian, Jeff Portnoy [Black], whose films largely consist of fat suits and puerile fart jokes and the final addition is an intensely method actor from Australia, Krik Lazarus [Downey Jr.], who believes he is good enough to play any part and immerses himself completely into any role - in this case, undergoing radical surgery to appear black. After a colossal cock-up, the director is pressured by the studio and decides to take action by sending the actors out into the wilderness under secret surveillance. Unfortunately, the area in question is occupied by drug lords and guns-for-hire and the director is quickly disposed of. With all but one, convinced it's nothing more than an elaborate ruse to immerse them, the actors trek off into the jungle.

The plot is, to be honest, a side note. Anyone who is watching this movie will quickly understand that this isn't your average multi-buddy comedy or some flick about confused actors kidding themselves into thinking events are happening according to the script. This issue is dealt with early on and the only character that believes this statement abandons the premise midway through. This film's sole agenda is to issue as many scathing cuts to the film industry as possible; this film is an attack on the entire contemporary movie making process. Which is good. I recently saw What Just Happened?, a film that claimed to do the same and yet largely failed to, settling for light jabs and mild undertakings. Tropic Thunder's success as a film, in my eyes, comes down to the writer's determination to expose 'the industry' for the shallow, callous operation that it is - from formulaic trailers, to musicians trying to act, to heartless studio execs, to kiss arses, to over excitable agents, to pretentious actors, to award ceremonies, to pyrotechnics, to the audience; everyone is targeted.

The characters themselves are extremely bold; we have an action hero playing an insultingly inaccurate portrayal of the handicapped, a heroin addict who hates his audience for laughing at the 'comedies' he makes and a pretentious award winner who has the nerve to die his skin, claiming he can play the part better than an African American. These are really original characters that have not been seen on screen, nor taken to the limits that these were in a long time. A lot of controversy has also surrounded the release of the film for all the wrong bloody reasons! Stiller has been targeted for poorly writing a disabled character and casting a white man to play a black person - that's the point! The whole point is to laugh at real filmmakers who have the audacity to try and get away with these things. When I heard that the film was being protested on these grounds I was the only one shouting, "Why!? He's on your bloody side!" Yet films like The Conqueror (in which John Wayne played Genghis Khan) and A Mighty Heart (Angelina Jolie playing a Cuban) did the exact same thing without protest. In a lesser form, it's a pet peeve of mine; hiring Americans to play British people or Russians or whatever, all because the name sells.

Both Jack Black and Ben Stiller are hilarious but Robert Downey Jr. and the lesser known Jay Baruchel (certainly a talent to watch, look out for Real Time) are the real core elements of the team. The core element of the film, however, lies in the supporting cast and the ludicrous cameos. The names brought in on this release are somewhat typical of a Ben Stiller flick (if only for the fact that actors like him) but still considerable acting forces. I realise that is a slightly vague sentiment but I genuinely don't want to give much away.

There are, naturally, a few flaws; flaws which sully a great overall piece. The film is flooded with high energy scenes but when the pace slows, the film drags because of it and although I don't want to target him, I sort of feel Stiller should have stayed off camera for this one. He did a great job but had he written and directed this piece but cast another as Tugg Speedman, the character may have developed a little more. Secondly, we have the audience. I can guarantee a lot of people are going to hate this film. I mean absolutely loathe it to its bastard core. As far as target audiences, I would certainly recommend this to anyone with an open mind for comedy and film fans (largely for the multiple references) but most beneficially, anybody working with, inside of or against this industry should greatly enjoy the various satirical elements.

Release Date:
19th September 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
As stated, one of the worst points of this film is the pacing. Being fed hilarity and action so enthusiastically, the remainder drags considerably whenever something 'isn't happening' - for lack of a better phrase. The best scene, however, is also one of the worst. The film opens on a corporate advert from rapper Alpa Chino [Brandon T. Jackson] advertising his two flag products (the Booty Sweat soft drink and Bust A Nut chocolate bars), saying they are available in the foyer. Disorientating, to say the least. This is followed by three trailers, one for each of the lead characters. As a set-up, it works beautifully, shining a light on the actor's back-stories without going overboard. I have, however, a few minor complaints to make; probably quite unjust. The trailers themselves are very funny and parody genre-heavy theatrical trailers very well but for an American audience. You see, in this country, we're treated to a solid fifteen minutes of TV commercials, some advertising nonsense from the cinema, four-five theatrical trailers, an amusing Orange short starring Brennan Brown and Steve Furst (yep, I love them... I want them on DVD), a few finger-wagging notices about piracy and when you think you've just about forgotten what you came to see, the film starts. Ultimately a minor gripe, but for us, the joke is a little lost on audiences who are not used to that full screen green block stating "The following trailers has been approved for all audiences... blah, blah." As stated, minor point of complaint but as a plot device, the concept has been very well utilised.

Notable Characters:
I was initially going to highlight Robert Downey Jr. but to be honest I couldn't make out a lot of what he was saying. That's not a racial comment at all, just an observation that he seemed to mumble through some of the funniest lines. So instead I would like to talk about Tom Cruise's cameo as studio head, Les Grossman. This is a man who has no care or concern for anyone or anything and whose sole purpose in life is to bellow at everyone around him and make obscene amounts of money. I donít really know why Tom Cruise was put in a semi-fat hairy suit but it works pretty well and everything he said was both absolutely horrendous and hilarious at the same.

Highlighted Quote:
"Which one of you fuckfaces is Damien Cockburn? And who here is the key grip? You? You! Hit that director in the faceÖ really fucking hard!"

In A Few Words:
"It's not going to be to everyone's liking but as a satirical comedy it says a lot"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon