2008 in Review: Tropic Thunder

Sometimes there is some extra value going into a movie stone cold and not knowing what to expect. So when I found myself randomly being dragged to a midnight showing of Tropic Thunder, I literally had no idea what I was getting myself into.  What I ended up getting was a truly special film. A  mixture of comedy and action. Biting satire and explosions. Rambo meets Dr. Strangelove …essentially Hot Shots but smarter with its own unique story to tell. Ben Stiller leads this truly all-star cast and crushes it as a washed up action hero, Tugg, trying desperately to reclaim his fame after a failed attempt at a dramatic role.

Ben Stiller as Tugg Speedman as Simple Jack

Robert Downey Jr. (henceforth RDJ) steals the show with his Kirk Lazarus, a method actor to the extreme who undergoes skin augmenting surgery to appear black for the film. Jack Black, Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel round out the rest of the crew and each have their own bright spots in the film. The film decides to not to stick with just the action hero cliches and also digs deep at the absurdity of Hollywood. Not even something as seemingly benign as movie trailers can escape the sting of this film. The film opens with fake movie trailers, each taking potshots at the movie industry. Both a great way to introduce our characters and as commentary of generic genre films, these fake trailers set the tone for the film and are easily one of the best parts. My personal favorite is RDJ and Toby Maguire’s “Satan’s Alley” which…words alone cannot do it justice.

The Moment I Fell in Love with “Tropic Thunder”

The movie comes out the gate at a pretty slow pace. There are some funny lines here and there particularly between the director (Steeve Coogan) and the producer (Tom Cruise) but the moment the film goes from good to great is when things get real. And by that I mean the actors are dropped in a jungle filled with drug cartels and land mines and are under the impression that it is all just part of the film. Literally the very first thing that happens? The director steps on a land mind and is exploded into a million little pieces. Tugg doesn’t think its real and picks up the severed head of the director and fingers the neck hole and licks some of the “blood flavored cornstarch”. As the entire scene plays out the audience is mixed with disbelief, horror, disgust, and laughter. It is truly an amazing moment.

Most Rewatchable Scene

There are so many great scenes in this film, but the one that I come back to the most has got to be Tom Cruise’s Less Grossman negotiating the release of Tugg from his Drug Cartel captors. It is a brutal takedown, possibly one of the all-time greats, and is one of the most quoted lines from the film. Tom Cruise really wears that fat suit and bald cap well. So well I honestly had no clue it was him after my first watch. Between this scene and his dance number during the end credits Cruise over performs.

Re-watching that scene reminded me that holy shit Matthew McConaughey is in this film as Tugg’s manager. He’s only in it for a bit but the parts he is in are solid gold.

The Best Scene

My choice for best scene is probably going to surprise some people. A fan favorite has got to be RDJ’s “Full-Retard” monologue, in which he skewers the idea of there being a line with Academy voters of how far actors should go when portraying characters who are, in his words, retarded. While that scene is great, my favorite scene is closer to the end of the film where Kirk and the gang are in the process of rescuing Tugg amidst chaos and explosions. Tugg doesn’t want to go, seeing the drug cartel as his adoring fans. In trying to convince him to go Lazarus ends up having a real breakthrough in which he realizes he has  gone so deep into method acting he has lost sight of who he is (the dudes are emerging). It’s a great scene because it points out just how absurd acting is. Not to mention the visual humor of the overly dramatic peeling away of the makeup and prosthetics to reveal the once hardened black war veteran was actually a blonde haired, blue-eyed RDJ. This scene was so meta that it broke the Academy and RDJ walked away with a nomination for best supporting actor.

Why should you rewatch it?

“Tropic Thunder” stands as one of the most unique comedies of our generation. Part black comedy, part satire, part action, this film has a little bit for everyone. Not to mention this is easily Ben Stiller’s best performance.

What do you guys think of “Tropic Thunder”? What’s your favorite scene? Let us know in the comments!

Check out our other retrospectives on 2008 here!

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