Review: Tropical Thunder (2008)

Tropical 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 had more success 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 barely passable at best. With the fourth feature ‘Tropic Thunder’, Stiller takes a giant step forward. Although ‘Tropic Thunder’ remains close to ‘Zoolander’ in terms of genre, the execution is much stronger. With ‘Zoolander’ the humor was still acceptable, but the satire leaned too much on the magnification of fashion clichés (stupid models, eccentric designers, etc).

With ‘Tropic Thunder’, Stiller aims at a world he knows much better: Hollywood. Due to this greater affinity, the satire gains depth and credibility. Vanity, megalomania, decadence, rudeness and professional foolishness, all kinds of Hollywood ailments come along and nothing or no one is spared by Stiller and his fellow screenwriters. Also in terms of story ‘Tropic Thunder’ is much more successful than its predecessor. While the premise is nothing special – actors in a war film end up in a real war – the elaboration is. Unexpected developments and silly finds propel the story unstoppably. It helps that the characters, no matter how bizarre they are, always remain human.

What helps even more is the excellent cast. Robert Downey Jr. is great in his role as Kirk Lazarus, a method actor who had pigment injected for his role as a black officer. Especially his confrontations with authentic colored Brandon T. Jackson are a feast. But Tom Cruise as a foul-mouthed Hollywood producer and Steve Coogan as a helpless director are also doing well and, just like the entire cast, are visibly enjoying 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. Moreover, ‘Tropic Thunder’ is teeming with references to other films, which makes it extra funny for film connoisseurs. If you add that humor to all the 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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