This is a review of the excellent 2009 All Region Blu-ray from Paramount Home Entertainment. It comes with a large number of extras.
When we had finished watching this film last night, my husband’s perceptive comment was “Well, that was almost a great film!”. As huge film fans, we were well able to see what Director, Lead Actor and (one of three) Screenwriter(s) Ben Stiller was trying to achieve. We could spot his nods and tributes to a number of well-known movies. We could appreciate that ‘Tropic Thunder’ is very clever, very handsome, and effectively filmed. It was also pretty clear that Stiller’s fellow cast members were having a fantastic time making it. And it IS great fun. But…
It is fair to say that American comedy, both TV and filmic, can appear slightly over-cooked, a little brash and even (say it softly) a bit unsophisticated, to the European palate. At its best, with shows like ‘M*A*S*H’, or films such as ‘Jerry Maguire’(1996) or ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’(1987), American comedy is joyful and brilliant, and endlessly watchable. But there is a strand, represented here, and also, for example, by certain Mel Brooks films, where a more manic, less subtle, humour takes over. The result can be very funny, very clever, but somehow, just not QUITE brilliant.
New Yorker Ben Stiller has had a hugely successful career, directing, producing and/or writing several well-known, highly successful films, and franchises including the ‘Meet the Parents’(2000-2010) and ‘Night at the Museum’(2006-2014) trilogies. He clearly has pulling power, with regard to big Hollywood names. This film is absolutely littered with major Stars doing balmy things: a bald and paunchy ‘Dad Dancing’ Tom Cruise(!); Nick Nolte and Matthew McConaughey in quite minor roles; Jack Black as a drug-addicted flatulence-prone fatty; Tobey Maguire ~ blink and you’ll miss him. And that’s just for starters.
Certainly, the film references are many and very good. Besides myriad Vietnam War films, particularly Willem Defoe’s character in ‘Platoon’(1986), and the pyrotechnics of ‘Apocalypse Now’(1979), there are also references to Eddie Murphy spoofs, ‘Brokeback Mountain’(2005); possibly even ‘Predator’(1987) with characters being held hostage in hostile jungle camps.
There are also a couple of rather controversial aspects: Stiller’s character’s previous film ‘Simple Jack’, about a disabled farm boy caused considerable criticism amongst advocates of the disabled community. Also, Robert Downey Junior appears in highly politically-charged ‘Blackface’ guise for most of the film, complete with a faux African-American accent. Perhaps surprisingly, this proved less problematic than Stiller’s role as Jack.
The film IS often funny, the plot is bonkers but good, much of ‘Tropic Thunder’ works well. It just seems that in places, the cast are slightly running amok. It could all do with being tightened up a bit. The feeling that everyone is having a ball on set, wins out over the overall effectiveness of the film. So, in the end, this is 4½ Stars, not 5.