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Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES (3-DISC VERSION): Cast Commentary; 3 featurettes; Blowing Shit Up; The Hot LZ; The Cast of Tropic Thunder; Make-Up Test with Tom Cruise; Full Mags; Rain of Madness Trailer; MTV Movie Awards – Tropic Thunder; Filmmaker Commentary; 2 additional featurettes: Before the Thunder; Designing the Thunder; Rain of Madness Mockumentary; Dispatches From the Edge of Madness; 2 Deleted Scenes; 2 Extended Sequences; Alternative Ending; 2 More Full Mags; Video Rehearsals.

BELIEVE the hype, Tropic Thunder is one of the funniest Hollywood comedies you’re likely to see this year.

Yes, it’s loud, brash, crass, mildly offensive and predictably hit-and-miss, but when it gets things right (and it does so frequently) it really is hilarious.

Ben Stiller’s labour of love [he serves as writer, director and co-star] functions as both a spot-on satire of Hollywood war movies as well as a curiously respectful homage to classics such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon.

It’s probably not quite as scathing as some would have hoped, and does – to a certain extent – become what it’s seeking to lampoon, but audiences should be having too much of a good time to really fret about some of its failings, or care too much about moments of self-indulgence.

A bunch of pampered Hollywood stars – including action hero Tugg Speedman (Stiller), comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and Australia method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr) – as they attempt to make the ultimate Vietnam movie. Dropped off in the real-life jungle in an attempt to offset the spiralling budget costs and to heighten authenticity, the actors suddenly find themselves in a real war zone and fighting for their survival.

The bigwigs back in Hollywood, meanwhile – including a bullish studio head (Tom Cruise) and Tugg’s loyal agent (Matthew McConaughey) – weigh up the cost of a rescue mission.

From the fake trailers that open the film – including the outrageous Satan’s Alley featuring Downey Jr and Tobey Maguire in a tale of forbidden love between monks, set to the strains of Enigma – to the Saving Private Ryan-style battle that brings it to a close, the jokes fly thick and fast and are frequently inspired.

Downey Jr nabs most of the best moments and makes a mockery of early suggestions that his portrayal of a black actor would be offensive – it’s part of the joke and is countered by the presence of another black actor (Brandon T Jackson) who fails to see it and who continually points out the absurdity of his method-style gone too far.

And yet despite being difficult to understand in places (another part of the same joke), Downey Jr still manages to shine, with his lecture to Stiller’s Oscar hopeful about “never going full retard” among the many highlights.

Strong, too, are the likes of Steve Coogan as the film’s hapless director (he has one truly jaw-dropping moment to savour), Tom Cruise as a hilariously OTT (and balding) studio exec with a penchant for crude power dancing and even Nick Nolte, as the war consultant and real-life veteran who lands them in so much trouble to begin with.

On the debit side, the film probably is a little too long for a comedy (as most are nowadays) and does over-play some of its jokes (particularly involving Stiller’s central character), but as previously stated there’s always another belly laugh around the corner to revive the lulls in proceedings.

And while the hyper sensitive may lament certain portrayals, they probably shouldn’t be there in the first place. This is, first and foremost, a movie geeks comedy – one that’s fully loaded with in-jokes and countless film references – that shoots for the funny bone and damn-near obliterates it every time!

Certificate: 15
Running time: 107mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release Date: January 26, 2009.