Deep in the jungles of Vietnam, one of the most expensive films in history is underway. The film is based upon a best seller by war hero Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), and stars three of the biggest stars in Hollywood so naturally expectations are very high for the film to become a box office blockbuster.
Unfortunately the production is troubled by one gaffe after another and finds itself lost in budget over runs, issues amongst the stars, and more drama than a Shakespeare festival.
The film is “Tropical Thunder” and Director and star Ben Stiller has assembled a talented cast that includes Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. in a biting satire of the Hollywood machine.
Stiller stars as Tugg Speedman, a declining action star who sees the war film as his big chance to break away from his recent failures and move into more serious work. Tugg is overshadowed by the presence of multiple Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), who prepares for a part so intensely that he literally becomes the character he is portraying. Toward that end, he has undergone a skin pigment procedure in order to portray an African American soldier.
Rounding out the group, literally, is Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), the star of flatulence based film comedy series and a man wracked by addiction to the point that he hides his drugs in a candy package and refers to them as his jelly beans.
After a staggeringly costly and impressive pyrotechnic display by the sets explosive expert Cody (Danny Mc Bride), the film is in danger of being halted by the money behind the film, an intensely angry Producer named Les Grossman (Tom Cruise).
In an effort to keep his film alive and salvage their careers, Four Leaf and the film’s Director decide to drop the cast in the thick of the jungle and shoot the film gorilla style with hidden cameras and various tricks to produce a grittier film and get the cast to start acting like the soldiers they are supposed to be portraying.
In a hilarious turn of events, the cast ends up trapped in the jungle and surrounded by members of the locale drug cartel. Convinced that it is all part of the film, Tugg and company blindly trudge along thinking all is going as scripted until things go hopelessly wrong, and force the cast to come to grips with the situation as well as their fragile egos and personal issues.
While the premise of the film is solid, and there are a good number of laughs in the film, for the most part “Tropic Thunder” is a hit or miss venture.
Robert Downey Jr. is amazing in his portrayal as he constantly steals his scenes with his expressions and one liners and almost single handled carries the film during some of the more tedious moments.
Stiller plays the patented Stiller character once again, the slow witted loser with a heart of gold, and despite his efforts, he is just not given enough material to fully push his character over the top, despite some funny moments.
The biggest disappointment for me was Jack Black who is sadly underused in the film. Jack is a very gifted and talented actor but he is given very little to work with, and precious few moments to let his talents shine. Owen Wilson was originally supposed to be in the film, and at times it seems that this part was written more with Wilson’s more subdued style of humor in mind.
Aside from the laughs, the film does have an abundance of celebrity cameos, and this truly helps the film. Sadly though, the plot really does not do justice to the premise nor talent in the film, and unfolds in a very unspectacular manner that had me expecting more.
This is not to say it is a bad film as I found myself laughing on more than one occasion, sadly it became fewer and father between laughs as the film unfolded to a very disappointing finale.
2.5 stars out of 5
2 Disc Set offers strong picture and sound as well as Cast and Filmmaker Commentaries, alternate ending, Deleted and Extended Scenes and much more.