Tropic Thunder (2008)

tropic thunder poster 2008 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting : 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise

Cringe-worthy anti-PC moments

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Tropic Thunder

Studio:  Red Hour Films

Genre(s):  Comedy

Release Date(s):  August 13, 2008

MPAA Rating:  R

tropic thunder kirk lazarus tugg speedman ben stiller robert downey jr

Hold my hands

Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) has written a Vietnam War classic in his memoir Tropic Thunder.  Now producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) has hired first time director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) to direct award winning method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), fart-comedy star Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and failing action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) with rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and newcomer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) in supporting roles.  When the film looks like a financial bomb, a plan to head into the jungle with the help of explosion expert Cody (Danny McBride) leads to real danger…but the actors don’t know it.

Directed by Ben Stiller (who helped write the screenplay with Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen), Tropic Thunder is an action comedy.  The film was released to a strong box office and positive reviews.  The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Robert Downey Jr.).

I didn’t see Tropic Thunder in the theater.  Both Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express were the hot comedies that year, and I missed both.  When I saw them both, I liked Tropic Thunder more…and it still holds up.

tropic thunder tugg speedman damien cockburn steve coogan ben stiller

Smoke and mirrors

The movie is a pretty simple comedy that often dives into the surreal.  The characters being dropped into the jungle and believing they are shooting a movie isn’t actually very surreal, but things like the arrival of Matthew McConaughey and the Tivo are just bizarre.  I also like the very Network discussion of sacrificing Tugg Speedman because he’s worth more when he’s dead.  Scenes surrounding the discussion of blackface and the handicapped were criticized by many and feel even more cringe-worthy as time passes.

The cast is good.  Stiller plays his typical brainless Stiller character with Jack Black also falling into his typical role.  Downey is the standout simply because he is acting out of character and mocking the idea of method actors like Christian Bale (though Downey said he modeled it after Daniel Day-Lewis, Russell Crowe, and Colin Farrell).  Cruise is also a scene-stealer as the disgusting Les Grossman while the film also features small roles and cameos by Bill Hader, Yvette Nicole Brown, Sean Penn, Christine Taylor, Jon Voight, Alciia Silverstone, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Tobey Maguire, Tyra Banks, Martin Lawrence, Jason Bateman, and Lance Bass among others.

tropic thunder les grossman tom cruise matthew mcconaughey

Tivo…is a must!

The movie does look like a rather typical comedy.  The jungle setting is pretty generic, but there are some good physical and effects gags (like Coogan’s severed head) and the humor of the tiny tyrant Tran played by Brandon Soo Hoo.  Plus, controversial or not, Robert Downey Jr.’s “blackface” was really well done (effects specialist Rick Baker was credited for the design).

Tropic Thunder is a slightly better run-of-the-mill comedy.  It is elevated by a strong cast and script that is smarter than average.  It dives into a bunch of issues that it could go deeper with but the critiques of Hollywood and war films are probably the best part of the film.  I could actually see a sequel to Tropic Thunder someday where the characters are trying to regain the glory from their award winning film…I wouldn’t mind if Tropic Thunder rode again.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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