With doom and gloom all around, we’re all in need of a giant dollop of happy. Cue Tropic Thunder. If there’s just one film you decide – or can afford to – see between now and the New Year, make it this one.
In a nutshell, this divine comedy sees Robert Downey Junior (RDJ), Ben Stiller (who wrote, directed and starred), Jack Black and Brandon T Jackson as a group of big-headed stars from various warps of the limelight brought bang back down to earth in a war film set that becomes a real-life battle ground against some hardcore heroin drugs barons.
RDJ plays Kirk Lazarus – who’s won five Oscars so far – thanks to getting so into his parts that he’s undergone skin-darkening treatment to play his latest role. Stiller plays Tugg Speedman who has ridden on so many sequels of the same film he’s lost count and whose previous role of playing a simpleton only served to help his career’s downward spiral. Black plays Jeff Portnoy, a man who’s seemingly built a very successful career out of fart jokes and Brandon T Jackson is rapper Alpa Chino (see what they’ve done there?) is big on product placement of his ‘Booty Sweat’ energy drink.
The film within a film is parodying the way Hollywood often brings big names together for the sake of it and it achieves this very well. Character actor Kevin Sandusky (played by Jay Baruchel) is the one with less ego and more passion for acting than the others combined and his straight man antics set up and complement the lines played out by the others. Steve Coogan plays a cock. Damien Cockburn to be precise.
Coogan’s character wants to make a name for himself by blowing stuff – lots of stuff – up in an attempt to re-tell John ‘Four Leaf’ Tayback’s story of bloodshed and friendship during the Vietnam War. I spent most of the film looking at Four Leaf in the way you do old school friends, trying to place how/why I knew him. About three-quarters of the way in, I realised it was Nick Nolte.
Quite early on, but perhaps not soon enough for some viewers, Cockburn puts his foot in it quite literally and gets blown up. Then the real fun starts. It soon transpires that Four Leaf is a bit of a fake and made the whole thing up in his head. But that doesn’t matter as the sub plot – the real fun and games for viewers and cast alike – begins when the poor actors who think they’re making a nam-style movie start to do battle with the drugs lords.
The film also boasts a glittering cast of big names who were all clearly keen to get a piece of this hot movie pie. While some of their appearances won’t set the earth on fire, they do showcase that Matthew McConaughey, Tobey Maguire, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alicia Silverstone, Jon Voight and N’Sync’s Lance Bass.
Tom Cruise (I’ve purposely put mention of him lower down this review so my liking of his role didn’t cannibalise the rest of the words) also stars as movie mogul Les Grossman, a larger than life character whose over-the-top antics no doubt typify real life film bigwigs. To tell you anymore about the film would only spoil it for you, so I shan’t.
The fact that the film deals with the entangled web of what it can mean to be a star (homosexuality, drug addiction, disability, racism, lewdness, paranoia to name but a few issues touched upon) has led to some critics outlawing it as an expensively-made, un-PC, un-funny attempt to catapult the cast into greater stardom. I’m not going to sugar coat what I think of their opinions. They’re bloody wrong.
The actors in question certainly don’t need catapulting anywhere except to the Oscars and the film is a thoroughly enjoyable 100-odd minutes of tongue-in-cheek action. If you’re uptight, let you’re hair down before you enter the cinema, if you’re normally easily offended, best get someone to insult you a bit before the film so you’re adjusted and if you’re a hyper-active excitable type, get a friend to give you a quick slap so you’ve got something to take the edge of the comedy that will ensue once the film begins.
Let me just pepper this review with some disclosure: I have been a fan of Robert Downey Junior (RDJ) since Weird Science. He’s an amazingly talented individual (and, yes, that does include that Elton John video) although I hasten to add that I have no desire to hide out in his garden, root through his trash, or indeed have his babies.
Secondly, I have never been a particularly big fan of Tom Cruise. I don’t think it’s anything specifically he is or isn’t doing, either on or off the screen. His presence just doesn’t do it for me. This film has single-handedly changed my mind. The man is pure genius. His parody of an overweight, balding movie mogul gives Mike Myers’ Fat Bastard a sprint rather than a run for its money and will have you spitting popcorn kernels at the backs of the people in front of you and crossing your legs tightly wishing you hadn’t drunk that bottle of mineral water on the train en route.
I can find little fault with this film save for the child leader (Tran) of the Flaming Dragons, who I found quite irritating. I’m sure he’s a great actor and a nice boy in real life and, if he’s not or has easy access to sharp objects and charter plans to London, I hope he’s not reading this and plotting revenge.
Some of the jokes and scenes are a tad silly and predictable. But name me a side-splitting film you’ve really, truly enjoyed that hasn’t had those two character traits nail-gunned to their foreheads.
Naff? Check. Over the top antics? Check. Stunning cast willing to take the p*ss out of themselves and their industry? Check. This film has it all. The only thing it isn’t is infinite and, hand on heart, the only thing I was really disappointed by was the ending. No, not the acting, the direction or the music, but the fact that the film had to end at all.
I am so in love with this film I feel like jumping up and down on a sofa yelling about it. But I shall refrain. I have every confidence most of you will fall head over heels for it too. And, if you don’t, I’ll set Tran on you.