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Tropic Thunder Not Your Typical Vietnam Flick

Is the Ben Stiller comedy destined to become a classic — or is it just a gross-out movie?

by
Kyle Smith

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August 13, 2008 - 12:04 am
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Tropic Thunder is half showbiz satire, half action movie, half broad comedy, and all Tom Cruise.

You thought this was a Ben Stiller movie?

It is, unfortunately. Stiller directed and plays a vainglorious action movie star (not at all like Cruise) who, after playing a retarded guy in an I Am Sam-like flop, needs a hit. So he goes to the jungles of Vietnam to shoot a war yarn.

His costars include a junkie (Jack Black) whose specialty is making fart-based comedies while wearing fat suits and an Aussie Method actor (Robert Downey Jr.) who has his skin dyed black to play a sergeant and talks in a Redd Foxx rasp, even when the cameras aren’t rolling. The things that are rolling, constantly, are the eyeballs of another black actor, a rapper named Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) who can’t stand the Downey character’s Jolson of the Jungle routine. Meanwhile, the Vietnam vet (Nick Nolte) who wrote the book on which the script was based tells everyone they’re a bunch of wussies who are cocking up everything.

The film they’re shooting on location in southeast Asia, Tropic Thunder, is a disaster.

In an effort to pump some reality into things the Brit director (Steve Coogan) takes the actors deep into the jungle and makes them improvise, promising that hidden cameras will catch their every move. Naturally everyone runs afoul of the well-armed local opium dealers, who mistake the actors for real DEA agents coming to take down their ring.

Stiller, thanks to poor advice from his director, Ben Stiller, spends a lot of time pulling faces and generally acting idiotic, and the laughs are pretty sparse whenever he is on camera – and some of those laughs have famously angered groups representing the disabled.

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