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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Justin Theroux
Robert Downey Jr.
Jay Baruchel
Jack Black
Brandon T Jackson
Steve Coogan
Tom Cruise
Ben Stiller.
Directors
Ben Stiller.
Screenwriters
Ethan Cohen
Justin Theroux
Ben Stiller.
Running Time
107 minutes

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Tropic Thunder
Like Apocalypse Now, only with more farting


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Plot
A bunch of movie stars shooting a Vietnam war movie are dropped off in a real-life jungle to offset the escalating budget. It’s not long before guerrilla filmmaking turns into genuine guerrilla warfare…


Review
Tropic Thunder
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There was a time when comedy was the cheap and cheerful genre. Sure, when the Murphys and Carreys hit the mega-big-time, they’d eat up a majority of the budget ($5,000 per gurn or fart), but that aside, all you needed was a rib-cracking script and a well-stocked prop room: custard pies, water spritzers, fake jism, puppet gophers… These days, however, comedy’s become an expensive business. Last year we had the FX-stuffed flop Evan Almighty, in which there was more CG than jokes. This year it’s Tropic Thunder, which looks like it’s incinerated half a jungle to bring you its laughs. And in terms of looks, at least, it’s money well spent.

In his effort to properly pastiche the action/war genre, director Ben Stiller has hired esteemed lensman John Toll, a man whose style of cinematography is best exemplified by the rippling visual poetry of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. A gag about a mistimed pyrotechnic climax (inspired, surely, by the legendary tale of Sergio Leone’s bridge-blowing cock-up while shooting The Good The Bad And The Ugly) results in a chain-explosion that tops Apocalypse Now’s symphony in napalm; a pisstake of the clichéd ‘control-room’ cutaway is harshly uplit and cobalt-tinged to perfectly mimic Tony Scott or Michael Bay’s slickest melodramatics. This has to be one of the best-shot comedies ever made, and is visually leagues ahead of anything Stiller has ever done before. But when it comes to the characters and - crucially - the gags themselves, Stiller squats on very familiar territory.

A neat trio of fake trailers introduces the three main players: action meathead Tugg Speedman (Stiller), rotund funny-guy Jeff ‘Fats’ Portnoy (Jack Black), and Australian Oscar-magnet Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr.), who gets the first big laugh with his teaser for Satan’s Alley, a period tale of forbidden love between medieval monks in which Lazarus and Tobey Maguire (“Co-winner of the MTV Best Kiss Award 2002”) exchange lustful glances and hungry lip-twitches as they fondle each other’s rosaries to the cheesy Gregorian-breakbeat of ’90s dance pompsters Enigma. These trailers are a good indication of what’s to follow in the main feature: Downey Jr.’s Lazarus doesn’t just get the first big laugh; he gets the only big laughs. Black’s Portnoy is a waste of script-pages. Aside from a graphic monologue about what specific acts of fellatory degradation he’ll perform for a “drug” fix (it’s never quite made clear what precisely is his white powder of choice - or rather, compulsion), Black has little to do other than act strung-out, pass wind and do his red-faced, bug-eyed schtick, while loosely sending up the late Chris Farley (a reference that won’t mean much to the majority of British viewers). It’s also hard to see precisely how Fats fits in; if there’s a good joke in the process by which a Farley-esque comedian is cast in a supposedly serious war movie, it’s not told here.

Tugg Speedman, meanwhile, is just another of Ben Stiller’s self-unaware idiots: all vanity, of dubious sanity. We’ve seen the male-model iteration in Zoolander; the health-freak take in DodgeBall; now we get the action-star version - although, strictly speaking, we’ve had that before in the form of ‘Tom Crooze’, the Tom Cruise stunt-double Stiller created for an MTV skit to tie in with the release of M:I-2, and who was no doubt Tugg in a previous sketch. When his co-stars sense that something’s amiss after being dropped into genuinely deadly territory, it’s up to Speedman to insist that it’s all part of the script and charge into the jungle with only action-hero bravado and blank rounds to rely on. We’ve been here before, of course (¡Three Amigos!, The Man Who Knew Too Little), and while that’s good for a few giggles, there’s little mileage in it.

Worthy support comes from the straight-men of the ensemble - Brandon T. Jackson as “Booty Sweat”-peddling rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino (groan) and Knocked Up’s Jay Baruchel as the nerdy one - while an on-form Matthew McConaughey manfully makes the Owen Wilson role his own as Tugg’s over-supportive agent. But it’s Tom Cruise, as abusive studio boss Len Grossman, and Downey Jr.’s Lazarus who will fuel the most post-screening pub talk. Buried under a liver-spotted bald-patch, beard and glasses, Cruise cuts loose Magnolia-style as he screams insults at his underlings (“A nutless monkey could do your job!”). He should consider making more forays into all-out comedy, like his Magnolia co-star John C. Reilly; although perhaps he should have pulled back on the comedy rap-dancing - that’s just creepy.

Downey Jr., meanwhile, is just superb as the over-precious actor who becomes so enmeshed in his misguided Method that even when his life is at risk, he can’t bring himself to drop character - he doesn’t do that “until the DVD commentary”. That his character’s character is a gruff, cigar-chewing black dude has already stirred up a fair amount of controversy, and will no doubt fuel blogosphere rants for weeks after the film’s release. There’s no getting away from the fact that a white actor has blacked up, a device for which there should really be no excuse in this day and age. But then, all the best comedy flirts with offence, and it’s testament to Downey Jr.’s meaty acting chops that Lazarus’ jiving makes you wince without ever feeling genuine discomfort. Brandon T. Jackson certainly helps, supplying the much-needed voice of reason, rightly complaining about the lead black part being given to “Crocodile Dundee” and, crucially, never making his peace with Lazarus. And Downey Jr. convinces us completely that Lazarus is such a twit that his self-absorbed concerns with the craft leave him unable to understand that his performance is just deeply wrong. So it’s not all jokes about barbecued crawfish and references to “you people”; we also see Lazarus as a thesp so choked by his own pretension that he’ll cough up crap like, “I don’t read the script, the script reads me.”

It’s only really with Lazarus that Stiller and his co-writers satirise the absurdity of Hollywood to any great effect; their other observations feel a little stale, not reaching far beyond ‘studio bosses are greedy’ or ‘movie stars take drugs’. Past the requisite scatology, blood ’n’ guts gross-out and animal cruelty, the jests will only nonplus: why is the chief baddie a little kid? Why does Stiller insist on having Speedman do his buck-toothed, "retard" Simple Jack act long after its comedy half-life has expired? Why did Nick Nolte even bother turning up? It’s not that Tropic Thunder is an Evan Almighty. Far from it, in fact. It’s just, given the pedigree, you can’t help leaving the cinema feeling like you’re owed a few more great jokes.


Verdict
There are moments of comedy grandeur, but this isn’t as consistently funny as you’d hope. Nevertheless, Downey Jr.’s Kirk Lazarus is instantly up there with the comedy greats.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Tropic Thunder
Empire Star Rating

Tropic Thunder Review

With biting satire, plenty of subversive humor, and an unforgettable turn by Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder is a triumphant late comedy from Ben Stiller. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 20:58, 22 January 2012 | Report This Post


Reality

Over-rated and under funny. A smile or two only - produced when you see the stars playing against type. After that the smile wears off as you realise that there isn't one likeable character in the whole thing. A huge disappointment. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jonathan at 23:07, 28 December 2010 | Report This Post


All-Star Comedy

This was hilarious, Robert Downey Jr. really surpassed my expectations and the suprisingly Tom Cruise was equally hilarious. Stiller gave it some heart and Black's addiction deal was great. I was practically fainted from awesomeness when Downey Jr. said 'I'm a lead farmer motherfucker' ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Zayd Awan at 09:10, 14 November 2010 | Report This Post


Simple Jack

empire got this review all wrong this probably one of the funniest films to have come out in the last 10 years. Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise's performances are absolutely brilliant. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by S1lent B0b at 20:54, 05 October 2010 | Report This Post


Hilarious

This is one of the funniest films I've ever seen. IGNORE THE RATING! I would have given it 4 stars but I want to get the verdict higher. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by typewriter at 21:09, 08 September 2010 | Report This Post


Soooo Funny !!!!!!!

Tom Cruise and Robert Downey JR. are simply outstanding in this. Everyone else is crap compared to them. The movie is hysterical and the plot and effects are OK. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JackS1351 at 19:19, 22 July 2010 | Report This Post


Empire gets this one almost spot on

The only difference being that I think this film gets 4 stars- great laughs to be had! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Francis46 at 12:11, 09 January 2010 | Report This Post


An oasis of originality

Thankfully among this abyss of cloned plots and simply crap romantic themes that don't belong in the comedy genre there are still highly original ideas coming to the table. That has come in the form of tropic thunder. The storyline is simply gold - it's original, exciting and funny as hell. This is combined with characters whose sheer nature us tear jerkingly funny. There are points where this film made me laugh so hard it hurt e.g. Stiller with Coogan's decapitated head, the "what do you... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by adamthecaptain at 14:17, 25 July 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Tropic Thunder

tropic thunder was great, i wasnt expecting much but it was hillarious ... More

Posted by jordanfromwhalley at 23:43, 09 May 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Tropic Thunder

For me tropic thunder has great repeat viewing factors; obviously the main one being Robert Downey Jr's Lincoln Osiris character who comes out with a multitude of great one liners throughout the film. For me the first 20 minutes up to and including the simple jack conversation between lazarus and speedman and the last half an hour make the film great. The middle portion for me is a bit too laborious to watch as it felt like it was trying too much to be a generic action comdey film. However grea... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sam_stewart at 16:06, 09 May 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Great fun

I really liked it, was very funny at the beginning but as the movie went on it just got less funnier. 3/5 ... More

Posted by Eddie Burke at 15:51, 09 May 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Great fun

Robert Downey, Jr. chews up every scene he's in, especially in this movie. There's so many in jokes, jabs at the actors, the entertainment industry, jabs at war movies in general, jabs at race, just okay funny. I do love the line by Ben Stiller "Who left the fridge open". Weird thing, RDJR actually looks, acts, sounds, black. Some of the scenes were just GROSS, and too in your face to be funny, for me at least. Ben Stiller tends to get annoying in his movies sometimes, the panda thing here wasn... More

Posted by JoeyPottr at 00:58, 09 May 2009 | Report This Post


I really wanted to love this film but it's not possible which is a shame. Thank god for Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise, both actors lift the film up and gets the laughs whenever they appear and it shows some comedic greatness in both actors, especially Cruise. Stiller and Black are ,well, SHIT to be frank and this film could have been an absolute classic but instead it's a painfully average comedy with 2 amazing comedy performances in it ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PaulJohn at 18:33, 02 May 2009 | Report This Post


A very dissapointing film that's only saved from damnation by Downey and cruise who make increedible characters. As per usual ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Blue Ryan at 22:03, 12 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Tropic Thunder

erdana]THUNDER ROCKS!  My favourite Line was uttered by Stiller's TUGG SPEEDMAN in the 'SCORCHER VI' Trailer - "Who left the Fridge Open?"  Snake-Eyes used this line when Britain had that Snowy Weather earlier this year... hee hee hee! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Snake-Eyes at 20:08, 08 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Tropic Thunder

Have now eventually got round to seeing this   While not without it's problems (Jack Black's character is poorly written, Tom Cruise yelling "FUCK!!!" over and over again ceases to be amusing after 4 seconds, the "Simple Jack" plotline is not funny and borderline offensive, Nick Nolte is pretty much wasted) this had enough outstanding comedy moments (yes, basically every bit with Robert Downey Jr) to make me happy I saw it Also thought Danny McBride was very good, despite playing almos... More

Posted by Fliblet at 19:51, 01 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Tropic Thunder

Very average with more miss than hit moments. Robert Downey Junior gave a decent performance. Jack Blacks character was truly pointless and very unfunny. Ben Stiller seemed to be playing the straight man for most of the film. The script was very weak and the comedy didn't hold up at all. Overall it was mildly diverting but not really worth the time wasted watching it. ... More

Posted by sanchia at 18:07, 19 March 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Tropic Thunder

Good movie - funny in places but never hillarious. I expected it to be a bit of a juvenile gross-out type of movie, but it's not. The jokes mainly come from poking fun at how seriously actors take themselves. Tom Cruise tries to get in on the act, but somehow he just comes across as slightly incomfortable - maybe it's just that I find him creepy now. Robert Downy Jr deserves all the praise he's getting. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gamba at 14:16, 19 March 2009 | Report This Post


Ranges from mediocre to inspired, albeit infrequently

Entertaining enough, if at times a little turgid, it’s just a shame that the same movie that gives us Kirk Lazarus, Tom Cruise rap-dancing, “never go full retard” and Satan’s Alley gives us Jack Black eating a bat. Because that’s funny... right? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Romarth at 20:29, 17 February 2009 | Report This Post


Tropic blunder

I had high hopes for this film and with the spoof film trailers at the beginning I was hopeful. A shame the rest of the film was a let down. There were some great moments, but most of the characters were under used and predictable. The Ben Stillar character could have really worked but having him act out his film on stage for the rebels was just not funny. Tom Cruise was funny, Downey was the best character in the movie but in no way deserved an Oscar nomination for it. Had the potential to be... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Andy9063 at 20:09, 07 February 2009 | Report This Post


Average

Quite disappointed in this really. Apart from Robert Downey Jnr and Tom Cruise nothing else was funny. The gags were weak, the gross bits offensive and unnecessary and looked better than it played. Just about scrapes by. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Caster at 23:44, 01 February 2009 | Report This Post


Funny But The Middle Part Was Disappointing.

My sister's husband had seen this in the cienma and thought it was brilliant so I rented it out on Blu-Ray and watched it last night. The three fake trailers are brilliant, the voice-overs is just laugh out loud and it's so over the top. When the film really begins, it still brings the laughs until past fifty minutes it all stops. The middle was really slow and not really funny, kinda disappointing if you were expecting to fall on the floor laughing. The final part is okay, had a few jokes and a... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 10:01, 01 February 2009 | Report This Post


Seriously, you call this a film, its complete bollocks, thee's nothing in this film that even came close to funny. Even Jack Black was an idiot with no noticable humourous moments. Truely a flop to me. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movie wizard at 20:04, 31 January 2009 | Report This Post


Thunder

Our site mutually disliked this movie. Tom Cruise is about the only funny thing in it, and of course, RDJ! But still disappointing. For more fun film info, check out our site. Enjoy. The Rake http://thefilmnest.com ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by The Rake at 20:13, 30 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: TROPIC THUNDER: GET SOME!

L: nc_jj Tropic Thunder rocks! The funniest film I've ever seen since Borat. I love this. One of the best films of the history. It isn't another ordinary suck-up comedy. This is really one for the record. Amazing. Don't miss this masterpiece. Stiller, Downey Jr. and Black rock! sp; totally agree ! it's was huge fun. havent laughed so much to a comedy flick since borat. ben stiller is a real pro. ths guy has talent. besides, downey was amazing, and jack black rocked as always, as a frea... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by m_er at 22:14, 29 January 2009 | Report This Post


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