Reel Shorts | Tropic Thunder

13 08 2008


With the exception of the executives at Warner Bros., no one is having as much fun this summer as Robert Downey, Jr. With the ultra-successful “Iron Man” in his rear view, Downey’s bold and outrageous performance is the engine driving the year’s funniest comedy, “Tropic Thunder.”

Brilliantly skewering everything Hollywood, this comedic version of “Platoon” meets “Apocalypse Now” follows fading action star, Tug Speedman (Ben Stiller) teaming with Oscar-winning actor, Kirk Lazarus, (Downey), comic actor, Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), rapper/actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and newcomer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) as they attempt to make a Vietnam War film.

Soon it becomes apparent that the film’s director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) has lost control of his cast and his set. Given an ultimatum by an irate studio executive, Len Grossman and not wanting to let the film’s screenwriter, veteran Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) down, Cockburn decides to “scare his actors straight” by dropping them in the middle of real action. From the moment the group lands, all comedic hell breaks loose. They lose their director and are mistaken by a rival drug militia as DEA agents. In a twisted game of mistaken identity, the actors think the action is part of their film while their adversaries have other ideas.

While the film’s concept is strong, it’s talented group of actors make the film soar. To accentuate the abilities of the film’s stars, each is showcased in a series of faux trailers and commercials that precede the movie. Complete with an afro, dark pigmentation and the dialect, Lazarus takes method acting to a whole new level. “I know who I am,” spits out Lazarus. “I’m the dude playing the dude disguised as the other dude!”

While much has been made of Downey’s portrayal as potentially being offensive, it is the smart inclusion of Jackson that blunts that criticism. While Downey does his best impression of what he perceives his character should be, it is Jackson that calls him out giving him much grief for constantly staying in character.

But Downey is not the only actor facing controversy. Speedman’s grab for an Oscar resulted in him starring in the story of a mentally-challenged boy, “Simple Jack.” In one of the film’s funniest scenes, Speedman and Lazarus hysterically debate that Speedman “over-committed” to his role in a way that prevented him from winning an Oscar. The two give a new meaning to “Full Retard.”

Speedman and Lazarus almost serve as a milder funnier version of “Platoon’s” Barnes and Elias – the two leaders who somewhat split their cinematic crew. While polar opposites onscreen, the two play so well off of each other it’s a shame that they don’t work together more often.

Unfortunately, the other brilliant performance in the film must remain a secret. While not at liberty to divulge the who, let’s just say that this major star gives a performance that I promise you’ve never seen before. While not having as much screen time as Downey, this actor delivers some of the film’s most bombastic lines and displays the ability to keep it crunk in the club.

A comedic gem, “Tropic Thunder” is this year’s “Superbad.” After killing Stiller for some of his earlier films, he has put it all together to create the year’s signature comedy. With plenty of laugh-out loud moments, incredibly rich comic performances and the red-hot Downey, the film provides plenty of entertainment – if you’re not too sensitive. Stiller’s “Jungle Fever” is comically contagious and sure to spread!

Grade: A

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One response

26 08 2008
movie buff

Robert Downey Jr. cracks me up… he’s got a knack for not taking himself too seriously

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