The big-grossing comedy of last summer, Tropic Thunder, justifies its entire existence with two memorable pieces of casting.
Firstly, there’s Robert Downey Jr, taking method acting to the nth degree. He plays Kirk Lazarus, one of the main stars of the big budget film shoot that forms the centre of Tropic Thunder’s story. Lazarus knows just how to pitch his performances to attract award attention, and for his latest production, he undergoes a special procedure to change the colour of his skin from white to black. It’s a bold and risky move for Downey Jr, and writer/director Ben Stiller, but heck does it pay off. Bluntly, whenever Downey Jr is on the screen, Tropic Thunder is first rate comedy.
And then there’s Tom Cruise, whose appearance in the film was kept a secret right up until its release. Cruise excels in carefully chosen supporting roles, and as movie executive Les Grossman, he’s created a wonderfully comic monster. Brilliant, and deserving of the acclaim that he’s got, we only hope he resists the urge to develop a Grossman-centric feature of his own, because we can’t imagine he’d be able to top what’s here.
The rest of the film around these two? It’s not bad. It kicks off superbly well with spoof trailers that introduce the three main characters, and a big blowing shit up sequence. As well as Kirk Lazarus, there’s Ben Stiller as fading action star Tugg Speedman, and Jack Black as the wind-reliant Jeff Portnoy. These three are under the stewardship of Steve Coogan’s director, Damien Cockburn, as they embark on the high budget production that soon goes very, very wrong.
As for Tropic Thunder, it gets quite a lot right. It bursts out of the traps at some speed, before falling into a far more uneven style. The problem is that some characters work (Cruise, Downey Jr, Nick Nolte’s Four Leaf Tayback), and some don’t ignite the screen at all (chief offender: the aforementioned Jack Black). The film stretches to just over an hour and three quarters, and yet it feels longer, simply because there are stretches of it that don’t click too well. When it’s on form, it’s brilliant, but the likes of Coogan, Black, Matthew McConaughey and DoG-favourite Bill Hader either don’t get enough to do, or aren’t interesting enough with what they do get. Still, at home is the perfect medium for the film, given that you can wind past the slower patches, and just get to the good bits. Because when it’s on fire, Tropic Thunder delivers big, big laughs.
The DVD is terrific, with an extras package laden with goodies. The standout is the wonderful Rain Of Madness spoof documentary, which does for Tropic Thunder what Hearts Of Darkness did for Apocalypse Now. With the further inclusion of some material that didn’t make the cut of the documentary, this simply justifies the cost of the DVD set all by itself.
Aside from these, you get a couple of decent enough commentary tracks, with the cast one featuring Downey Jr remaining in character for its duration. You also get some deleted scenes, which you’ll only watch once, and a variety of passable enough press kit making-of bits and bobs. It’s all interesting enough, just not worth getting terribly excited about.
Still, the film itself is good, sometimes great and sometimes meandering, while the extras are some of the finest we’ve seen of late on the DVD of such a modern film.
The Film:The Disc:
1 February 2009