Outside the Frame

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Film Review: Tropic Thunder

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More a light shower of funny than a thunderous storm of hilarity; but still worth a look


Tropic Thunder seems like it has so much going for it. And yet the words for a really positive review elude me. The film has all the criteria for a really good comedy but when looking on it retrospectively, nothing seems to stand out. I know I laughed regularly during the screening but now only a few funny moments come to mind. Written by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, you get the feeling that on paper it must have looked like comedy gold. But somewhere in the translation from script to screen it lost a lot of its thunder. Not that it is a bad film; rather it just does not live up to expectations.

Tropic Thunder starts off with quite a funny premise. The egos of the actors on a new big-budget Vietnam Way movie become to large for the production, so the director decides to drop them somewhere in South-east Asia and makes them find their own way out, under the guise of it all being part of the film. The group, including a washed-up action star (Ben Stiller), a slightly too-intense Australian method actor (Robert Downey Jr.) and a slapstick comedian hooked on drugs (Jack Black) must navigate their way out of the jungle, all the while avoiding a real drug-gang who are definitely not part of the scenery.

Downey Jr emerges from the film the best. He plays a white Australian actor who undergoes plastic surgery in order to play the film within a film’s black sergeant. An underrated actor, here he mixes his splendid acting chops with some genuine comic talent. Stiller, who also directed, is again another version of his usual movie character. Although this is one of his better roles of late, he still grates on you at times, but is saved by being but part of an ensemble cast. Stiller, is definitely much better when surrounded by other funny actors.

Jack Black, is thankfully not too in your face, which is where he too-often finds himself, and he does entertain here at times but still comes up lacking. Jay Baruchal and Brandon T. Jackson are good in support as the remainder of the film’s army squad, as are Nick Nolte and Danny McBride in smaller roles, while Matthew McConaughey is just boring. And then there is Tom Cruise. Craziness aside, the man can pull out some great acting when he wants to. Here he is in such a different role than we usually see him, and while he plays the part actually really well, this viewer just did not find him funny. But perhaps that blame should be placed on the writers.

So with an obviously funny story and a cast full of big names, where does the film fall flat? The directing is solid enough, the action is entertaining, the actors do what is asked of them, some better than others, and the jokes are there throughout. But while the parts are all there, they just do not combine to produce movie magic. However clichéd the idea of “movie magic” is, it is still that one quality that can make a film a classic, the coming together of all the film’s aspects to produce something memorable. And this is where Tropic Thunder fails. It is a hell of a lot better than much of the films branded as so-called comedies being released these days (N.B. anything by Adam Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer), but it still falls below potential and indeed expectations. Good for a few chuckles but won’t make your belly ache.


Written by Dale Weber

Friday, 12 September, 2008 at 2:43 pm

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