Rumble in the Jungle : the distinct sound of Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder

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Well worth checking out Tropic Thunder starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black. Brit Steve Coogan pops in as the inevitable luvvy English director of the ultimate war movie. The beginning of the film has a bunch of spoof trailers which are hilarious. Goes downhill from there – the laughs get fewer – but the film is really about having a pop at Hollywood poseurs and pratts. Good fun – the best part is Tom Cruise as ‘the money’. For bigger laughs, might be worth waiting for “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” starring Simon Pegg, which is due out shortly.

Written, directed and starring big screen funny man Ben Stiller, new release Tropic Thunder takes on film industry stereotypes and attempts to blast away the summer doldrums with its $90m explosion-laden flatulence-fest. Set on location with a film production based on a story of Vietnam derring do, Tropic Thunder follows a group of actors and, briefly, their director. We watch as they do battle alongside a greasy Hollywood mogul, a lunatic special effects man and a decidedly dotty ex-soldier/author (Nick Nolte at his nutty best) to get a career-reviving blockbuster in the can.

Co-writer Stiller Teams Up Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen

Thankfully Stiller has so far avoided the Judd Apatow staple approach of re-heating leftover scripts which serve up the same old unfunny toilet humour in order to get bums on seats. Nevertheless, Stiller’s track record is decidedly hit-and-miss, with Zoolander standing out as favourite against such turkeys as The Cable Guy (which he directed) and Blades of Glory (producer). With Tropic Thunder, he takes aim from within a Vietnam-spoof jungle at studio stalwarts with a pastiche playing on Platoon and many other war movies, to take a pot-shot at pretence in the acting profession. Stiller fills the lead as Tug Speedman, a fading star of a dwindling series of action movies and his (failed) attempt at a ‘serious’ acting role in the guise of “Simple Jack”. Robert Downey Jr. is marvellous as the Aussie thesp who takes method acting to the extreme by immersing himself as an African-American grunt, complete with medically-enhanced make-up to change his race for the role. Jack Black joins in as the flatulent heroin addict, Jeff Portnoy, with Steve Coogan as the wimpy, Brit director struggling to get his movie made. However all are blown away by a fantastic turn by Tom Cruise as the slaphead profane producer, complete with unfeasibly large and hairy forearms.

Alpa Chino and the amazing product placement pun

The running gags and goofs are fairly routine stuff but the meat of the film are those elements which predictably bring out the usual nuts. Itching to take offence as usual, they have missed the whole point of Stiller’s shooting match, but then the targets – and there are many – are sniped at from cover deep enough to fool these idiots. Perhaps the most hilarious poke is at Eddie Murphy who could be upset that Black’s character ripped off his crummy opus “The Klumps”.

The movie opens well and has some witty opening rip-off trailers. The jokes are great and had the audience laughing, albeit not quite in the aisles. Pity that it tails off quickly and could well do with some more effective pre-release pruning. The swipes at the crassness of Hollywood are imaginatively done, with some edgy humour that, no doubt, has its own producers rubbing their oversized hands at the knock-on publicity. In that sense, Tropic Thunder is as much a product of the system that it attempts to ridicule. Fun enough that it is worth a trip to the flics, and certainly looks great.