These days, it seems like there are two types of comedy film. Films produced or directed by Judd Apatow, and films staring Will Ferrel. So it’s nice to see that Ben Stiller’s new film, the comedy Tropic Thunder has little to no link to either of these guys. Things are getting a little bit repetitive, so comedy needs something else. Parody is a staple of comedy. And war films are ripe for parody. Yet few films tackle this. Stiller does, and manages to create something genuinely funny.
Tugg Speedman is a Hollywood superstar. However, his career is on a bit of a decline, especially after the spectacular failure of his attempt at serious acting, the film Simple Jack. Attempting to reignite his career, Speedman takes the lead in ‘the most expensive war movie ever made,’ Tropic Thunder. He is joined by obnoxious fart comedian, Jeff Portnoy and five time Oscar winner, Kirk Lazarus. However, once filming begins, it immediately spirals out of control as the actors’ egos clash and director, Damien Cockburn loses control of the production. In a final attempt to get the best out of his actors, Cockburn drops his cast into the middle of the jungle. However, things get worse when it becomes clear that the cast are unknowingly in the proximity of a heavily armed drugs gang.
In Tropic Thunder, co-writer and director Stiller has created quite an attack on the film industry. Actors, agents, directors, everyone comes under fire. He launched a similar attack on the model industry in 2001 with Zoolander. But the film isn’t cynical or cutting. Instead, it’s more like a cartoon version of the industry, albeit with gore and gratuitous bad language. The film received a bit of flack over the Kirk Lazarus character who has skin pigment alteration in order to play the platoon sergeant, Lincoln Osiris. But it’s a parody. It’s not serious. It pokes fun at itself and the type of actor who immerses him or herself a little too much into their role. So these complaints are ridiculous. And besides, it’s a comedy. And a damn funny one at that.
Stiller, who co-wrote the film with Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen creates one of the most memorable comedy characters in Kirk Lazarus. Robert Downey Jnr.’s performance is spot on. His character is so lost in the role that he cant snap out of it when it’s clear things have gone absolutely pear shaped. It’s Downey Jnr., and a stunningly hilarious cameo by Tom Cruise of all people that are the outstanding things about Tropic Thunder. The dialogue is hilarious, and the parodies are subtle but handled brilliantly. Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, and a great many other films are lampooned but in a way that makes sense in the context of the film. It’s not like everything stops to go ‘hey, look! We’re poking fun at... (insert pop-culture reference here)’ It’s something that talentless hacks like Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg have no idea how to do.
The performances from everyone are very good. Steve Coogan is his usual brilliant self, but his role is unfortunately quite small. Playing the man who wrote the book the film Tropic Thunder (the film in the film) is based on is crazy Nick Nolte. Nolte is madness personified, and adds a great edge to proceedings. The trio of movie stars are also great parodies in themselves. Stiller doesn’t lose any points in playing Tugg Speedman. He’s not preoccupied with directing and is very funny in the role. And Jack Black had the drug-addled Jeff Portnoy nailed. But like I’ve said before, it’s Robert Downey Jnr. and Tom Cruise who steal the show. It’s just a shame we don’t get to see more comedy from Tom Cruise. His reputation as someone a little bit eccentric just adds to the role. Hell, the film even makes Matthew McConaughey look like a great actor.
Tropic Thunder does lose a little steam in the middle of the film. But the opening is relentlessly funny and the laugh count does drop, but things are still very amusing. Sure, Tropic Thunder won’t win awards. But it’s a brilliant parody and a very funny comedy. And it almost makes me forgive Stiller for the dreadful Night At The Museum.