The Screening Room
tropic thunder
From the faux previews to the opening Vietnam War battle scene, you know "Tropic Thunder" is yanking your chain. The movie has fun spoofing war movie clichés and gore. The actors play their roles with straight faces, but you know they're having a great time playing war. This is a delightfully nasty, yet affectionate look at the Hollywood movie making machine.

"Tropic Thunder: Director's Cut" arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on November 18. This is an early review of the Blu-ray.

Totally offensive and crass, the movie hits all the right notes. When I saw the film theatrically, I felt that most of it belonged to the performance of Robert Downey Jr. as the skin pigment dying a-c-t-o-r, Kirk Lazarus. After walking out of the theater, I thought most of the best parts of the movie were shown in the previews. Yet after watching it again on Blu-ray, I grew to admire all the detailed gags and performances within. The screenplay is filled with a lot of one-liners that I missed before.

A huge movie production goes awry when its high priced actors are stuck in the jungle. Playing military men, they're surprised to actually be fighting real enemies. The concept is ripe for parodying the Hollywood machine, and "Tropic Thunder" does an admirable job.

"Iron Man" and now "Tropic Thunder" erased my doubts about Robert Downey Jr. He's truly hilarious and self-parodying as an actor so intense that he dyes his skin to play a black solider. He's got some of  the most hilarious and quotable lines I've heard in a long time. In "Thunder," he's the most likable and funny character in the film. I'd even say he's worthy of an Oscar nomination. 

Downey's on-screen demeanor during his career hasn't always impressed me. As in my review of "Iron Man," I always felt that he came off as smug in almost any role he's done. His off-screen personal issues also tainted my opinion of him. It's obvious that he's made a tremendous turnaround in both his career and life, and he looks like he's having the time of his life playing Lazarus. The role of Kirk Lazarus is worth watching. Downey Jr. is priceless, and even Matthew McConaughey does a good job as Stiller's agent.

The cast is strong. Ben Stiller is either hit or miss with me. He sometimes over does the "Ben Stiller" act and he's no exception in "Thunder." He's the least likable character in the film, aside from the total jerk character of Les Grossman (Tom Cruise). Credit, though, is due to Stiller for co-writing, co-producing and directing the production. It's done on a grand scale and looks and feels every bit as epic as big budget war movie.

Les Grossman, taking a cue from the legend of every nasty studio executive, is a jerk to the highest degree. Cruise pokes fun at Jeffrey Katzenberg with the penchant for Diet Coke. Grossman is despicable and repetitive in his threats to people around him. It's pretty much typical Tom Cruise acting here with the eyes bulging out and spit flying. Some critics found the role enjoyable. I found the character repulsive.

The film is offensive throughout, but I think the script is smart and knows what it's trying to say about the occasionally absurd nature of filmmaking and studio executives. The language is very strong throughout, and the movie hits on every possible racist, mentally handicapped, and sexually orientated button. I have to admit, I laughed pretty hard at Ben Stiller's take on "Forrest Gump," "Simple Jack." The movie takes shots at a lot of movie and actor clichés, and I think it nails them. If there's a weakness to the movie, there is a dramatic undertone to its execution; an almost heavy handedness. Overall it doesn't detract from the movie. 

The Blu-ray is an exemplary format for showcasing the production. John Toll's cinematography has all the richness and color of movies like "Apocalypse Now." The images are sharp and have exquisite detail. For a comedy, the production has high value compared to something like a Judd Apatow movie. It looks and sounds like a real war movie done on a big budget. The sound design has enough booms and bangs to keep your speakers happy. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is clean and full of energy with well recorded dialogue and sound effects.

"Tropic Thunder" is occasionally flawed, but it's brilliantly funny in so many other ways. Hollywood has been skewered before by it own members. I'm sure that the business will survive this playful drubbing, and even Jeffrey Katzenberg got a couple laughs out it.        

Bill Kallay

Photos: © 2008 DreamWorks/Paramount. All rights reserved.
BLU-RAY Quick Glimpse


Sinfully fun movie that pokes holes in the Hollywood myth making machine

Director: Ben Stiller  

Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Tom Cruise  

Lots of S#%t in HD!

Not rated (many naughty words, tons of gore, and nudity)

Picture: Excellent
Sound: Excellent

How does Ben do it all?

Aspect Ratio (2.39:1)

Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Dolby Digital 5.1 (international tracks)

November 18, 2008
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