Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I forgot the movie I was at but the trailer played for ‘Tropic Thunder’ and for the first time in a long time here was movie I HAD to see. That and Michael Jai White’s blaxploitation knock off ‘Black Dynamite’. If you have ANY love for blaxploitation, download the trailer for Black Dynamite now. Anyway, the thing that did it for me for ‘Tropic Thunder’ was Robert Downey Jr. in Black Face. Now perhaps as a Black man I should find that offensive, and as we will touch on a little later there are those who are quite upset with this little film, but Robert Downey Jr. in Black Face cracked me the hell up. So when my notice for the screening arrived, I descended upon the theater, grabbed my popcorn and an extra large diet coke and was in the front row. Let me tell you that the first twenty or so minutes of Ben Stiller’s movie has some of the funniest stuff in it that I have ever seen. The last 80 or so minutes, well… it certainly had its moments.

Since this is a movie within a movie starring actors playing actors, the film opens with a taste of what these actors do. Such as superstar rapper Alpha Chino’s (Brandon T. Jackson) commercial for his beverage Booty Sweat and his chocolate bar Bust-a-Nut. We have action star Tug Speedman’s (Stiller) trailer for his seventh sequel to his action movie franchise ‘Scorcher’, Jeff Portnoy’s (Jack Black) Nutty Professor knock off where he plays all the roles of a family that farts a lot and finally there’s Satan’s Alley, the latest deep thinking film from deep thinking Australian actor Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr.). These four men are now on location in Vietnam, on the set of the toughest Vietnam War epic ever ‘Tropic Thunder’ but unfortunately there are problems.

First, rookie director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) has lost complete control of his set as this is compounded by Tug’s complete inability to act, particularly compared to Kirk Lazarus’ extreme method preparation who for this film had himself surgically

darkened so that he could be a real Black man. Jeff Portnoy is on drugs and Alpha Chino only cares about hawking Booty Sweat. To make matters worse super asshole Hollywood producer Les Grossman has threatened to kill everybody if they don’t get this movie made. Grossman was played with extreme gusto by a Tom Cruise I didn’t recognize in the role until way late in the movie.

To get his actors back on the right track, Cockburn unwisely takes the advice of handless Vietnam Vet Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), who wrote the book that this movie was based on, and drops his spoiled actors, plus young actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruschel) in a real world jungle situation to get that much needed ‘realism’, completely unaware that there are real live heroin dealing mercenaries out in them there woods. Now the fun starts as our actors with fake guns eventually discover that their enemy out there aren’t movie extra’s but extremely angry dudes with real guns and hearing the words ‘cut’ means something altogether different to them. With the Panda loving Tug Speedman in some serious trouble, a rescue mission, and some rather blatant product placements, are in order as our actors have to act to save their lives.

There were spots in this movie that were so funny that I actually spit my pop out. My apologies to that dude in front me and I’m sure glad he didn’t turn around because he would’ve gotten his ass kicked. Robert Downey Jr. playing Kirk Lazarus playing Lincoln Osiris was priceless and worth the ticket price alone…. If I had actually paid to get in. Watching the fake Black man chastise the real Black man over his improper use of the N-word, among other things, was truly an inspired performance from the gifted Downey Jr. If I believed in the Academy Awards, which I don’t, and if didn’t find the notion of a white man getting an award for playing a Black man so unsettling, I’d trumpet the horns for Mr. Downey Jr. What I really liked though was the fact that Downey Jr. was playing a blonde Australian actor who is known for completely immersing in his roles and being a scoundrel and a thug when he’s not busy acting and hearing the real Robert Downey Jr. saying in interviews he’s not mimicking Russell Crowe. Okay RDJ. And Tom Cruise’s Leo Goldman was nowhere near Hollywood producer Scott Rudin in this thing. Hell, when Jamie Foxx was playing that blind piano player named Ray, it wasn’t really Ray Charles either. It’s all good.

Now after the first twenty minutes of this film expire and they are out in the jungle, the movie does lose a lot of its steam as it turns into a fairly typical run of the mill action flick, though it certainly has its moments. Jack Black’s Jeff Portnoy trying to detox while tied to a tree was one, Kirk Lazarus’ inability to abandon his character was another and Ben Stiller’s ‘Simple Jack’ performance was gold. Now as most of you probably know activist for the mentally disabled are quite upset with Mr. Stiller and his movie within a movie within a movie portrayal of ‘Simple Jack’, one of those roles that appear when an actor strives for credibility playing a mentally disabled person…. Cough ‘Radio’ Cough. Though it was funny as HELL, particularly when Lazarus skewers Speedman for going ‘Full Retard’, as a concerned and compassionate U.S. American, if these individuals have seen the movie and find it offensive, then who am I to tell them that they are wrong. Yes, I laughed my ass off and yes after seeing the movie I can see where someone might find Ben Stiller’s performance offensive. Though I should also mention that there was stuff for gays, drug addicts, black people, rappers, nerds, poppy growing Laotians and Russell Crowe to be offended about too.

Though this 150 million dollar movie (!) might be a bit overblown and dragged a bit the longer it went on, it was one hell of a funny movie with Robert Downey Jr. showing, once again, why he’s one of the best actors of my generation.

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