Review: Tropic Thunder (2008)

Directed by: Ben Stiller | 107 minutes | comedy | Actors: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny R. McBride, Steve Coogan, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Tobey Maguire, Justin Theroux, Holly Weber, Valerie Azlynn, Reggie Lee, Jasmine Dustin, Nadine Ellis, Yvette Nicole Brown, Andrea De Oliveira, Junie Hoang, Jason Collett, Matt Levin

Until 2008, comedian Ben Stiller was more successful with acting than with his directing jobs. His own feature films – youth drama ‘Reality Bites’, black comedy ‘The Cable Guy’ and crazy fashion satire ‘Zoolander’ – were a poor pass at best. With fourth feature film ‘Tropic Thunder’, Stiller takes a giant step forward. Although ‘Tropic Thunder’ stays close to ‘Zoolander’ in terms of genre, the performance is much stronger. With ‘Zoolander’ the humor was still acceptable, but the satire relied too much on magnifying fashion clichés (stupid models, eccentric designers, etc.).

With ‘Tropic Thunder’ Stiller is aiming for a world he knows much better: Hollywood. Because of this greater affinity, the satire gains depth and credibility. Vanity, megalomania, decadence, rudeness and professional amazement, all kinds of Hollywood ailments come along and nothing or no one is spared by Stiller and his fellow writers. Also in terms of story ‘Tropic Thunder’ is much more successful than its predecessor. While the premise is nothing special – actors in a war movie end up in a real war – the effect is. Unexpected developments and foolish discoveries unstoppably propel the story forward. It helps that the characters, however bizarre they may be, always remain human.

What helps even more is the fine cast. Robert Downey Jr. is great in his role as Kirk Lazarus, a method actor who injected pigment into his role as a black officer. Especially his confrontations with authentic colored Brandon T. Jackson are delicious. But also Tom Cruise as a coarse Hollywood producer and Steve Coogan as a helpless director are doing fine and, like the entire cast actually, visibly enjoy it.

The greatest quality of ‘Tropic Thunder’ has not even been mentioned: the humor. The film is irresistibly funny from start to finish. From simple (but successful) physical humor to intelligent jokes and fun references, it’s all there. In addition, ‘Tropic Thunder’ is teeming with references to other films, which makes it extra funny for film connoisseurs. If you add that humor to all other qualities, ‘Tropic Thunder’ turns out to be one of the best comedies of the 2008 film year. And we didn’t expect that from Ben Stiller.

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