WARNING: This review contains gratuitous international espionage jokes and at least one insult at the expense of the FOX Network.
Composer Theodore “Teddy” Shapiro hits the mark on his score for Ben Stiller’s overblown Vietnam movie parody Tropic Thunder, turning in a very good overblown Vietnam movie music parody. Tense, emotional, it’s the kind of stuff that suggests fighting for your life in a jungle environment, trapped in the middle of a war you don’t quite understand. In fact, it might be too good. There were a couple of times where I zoned out while listening and forgot where I was. Then I started freaking out ‘cause it sounded like the Viet Cong were coming to get me. Turns out those muffled noises outside were just my neighbor’s cat (who, it should be noted, speaks fluent Vietnamese).
Ted Shapiro is no stranger to scoring crazy, Stiller-esque send-ups. He cut his teeth composing music for cult MTV sketch show “The State” and its 2001 cousin film Wet Hot American Summer (he also worked on that year’s beloved youth yank Not Another Teen Movie). There are a few moments on the Tropic Thunder soundtrack where this goofy pedigree shines through, such as the over the top injection of generic rock that ends the piece entitled “Lead Farmer” (watch out for that guitarist’s pick slide – it might kill you). Certain phrasings and beats also suggest you are listening to the work of a man musically associated with delightful comic romps such as Old School and Blades of Glory.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Teddy is just some spoof movie slouch, though. This guy got his Master’s at the Julliard School of Music in 1995, composed a flute concerto that premiered at Carnegie Hall, and has been praised by The New York Post as having “a keen ear for orchestral colors, both delicate and robust.” Shapiro’s got the stats to back up his game, like a seasoned quarterback or a champion hog caller. Hey, there’s a sitcom waiting to happen: “The Composer, The Quarterback, & The Champion Hog Caller.” FOX Tuesdays just got ten times more exciting!
But I digress. My only complaint with this disc is it seems like they should have included the dialogue that went along with the emotional swells from the controversial “Simple Jack” segment of Tropic Thunder. In my important and never-wrong opinion, that piece of music needs to stand apart from the rest of the score, considering it’s supposed to be from an entirely different film. But I suppose if they had put dialogue from “Simple Jack” on here, they would have started peppering the whole thing with jokes and yakking from the movie. That certainly would have distracted from Shapiro’s satisfying music.
I must also give credit to the individual musicians who perform on this soundtrack, not just for their bold work but for providing me with numerous incredible aliases for when I travel abroad. At European hotels, I shall check in under the name of Doug Tornquist, champion tennis player and cancer survivor. Andrew Duckles, son of tomato sauce magnate Reginald Duckles, shall be my name when I enter Morocco. Russia will know me only as Nico Carmine Abondolo, alleged arms dealer and inner city youth basketball coach. Rest assured, Tropic Thunder musicians, your identities and credit scores will remain safe. I wish only to steal from you your awesome, awesome names.
Perfect for your next Dien Bien Phu party or Ho Chi Minh birthday observance, the Tropic Thunder soundtrack is ostensibly sitting on a real, live, physical record shelf somewhere within the borders of your country. Go out, buy it, and keep the retail record industry alive