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TROPIC THUNDER (2008) ****

A bunch of pampered movie stars filming a Vietnam movie on location are taken into the jungle and are told they are filming the movie “Guerilla style” in order for them to feel what it was like to be in the actual war.  There’s also a bunch of Burmese drug dealers out in the jungle who think they are American DEA agents and they predictably start a real war with the actors. 

 

Tropic Thunder is a hilarious comedy in the great tradition of the grossly underrated The Man Who Knew Too Little in which an idiot doesn’t know he’s in the middle of a life or death situation and thinks it’s all an act.  Ben Stiller (who also directed) is pretty great as Tugg Speedman, an action star whose last movie Simple Jack (in which he played a “full-retard”), was a flop and Jack Black has a few funny moments as the dope-addled comedian, but its Robert Downey, Jr. who steals the movie as the Method actor Kurt Lazarus who undergoes a “pigment alteration” so he can play the platoon’s black leader.

 

There are plenty of great gags, mostly involving the actors thinking that the war around them is part of the “script”.   The funniest scene is when Stiller picks up the severed head of a fallen comrade and tells his fellow actors that it’s a prop and proceeds to lick the gnarled neck stump to prove its fake blood.  (“It’s blood-flavored fake blood!”)  Easily the best part of the film though are the fake previews that open the movie that not only serves as our formal introduction to the main characters, but also provides lots and lots of laughs.  (My favorite is the gay monks movie starring “5 Time Oscar Winner” Kurt Lazarus and “MTV Movie Awards Best Kiss Winner” Tobey Maguire.)

 

A lot has been made out of Tom Cruise’s extended cameo as Les Grossman, the profanity spewing studio chief.  While it’s initially fun seeing America’s favorite Scientologist under pounds of latex, his character gets old after awhile.  The first time he started dancing around to rap music hollering “Playah!” was pretty funny.  The fourth time was a little gratuitous. 

 

The film is a tad on the sloppy side but you won’t care because the flick is packed full of some big laughs and that’s what really counts in movie like this.  It’s not on the same level as Stiller’s masterpiece, Zoolander, but then again what could be? 

 

Although all three leads are great, it’s Nick Nolte who gets the best line of the movie playing a grizzled Nam vet who sleeps in a homemade tent and says, “Beds give me nightmares!”

 

Tropic Thunder has enough yuks for the bucks to put it at Number 7 on the Video Vacuum Top Ten for 2008, right below Son of Rambow and just ahead of WALL-E.

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