Saturday, November 1, 2014

3. Tropic Thunder (2008)

Code-name: Dude within a dude within a dude

[:facepalm: I shoulda just stuck with "TiVo", so much simpler]

Director: Ben Stiller

Writers: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen
Composer: Theodore Shapiro
Type: R-rated Vietnam War Movie/Hollywood Comedy/Parody


Tugg Speedman- Ben Stiller
Kirk Lazurus- Robert Downey Jr
Jeff Portnoy- Jack Black
Alpha Chino- Brandon T. Jackson
Kevin Sandusky- Jay Baruchel
Director Damien Cockburn- Steve Coogan
Cody- Danny McBride
"Four-Leaf" Tayback- Nick Nolte
Tugg's Agent Rick Peck- [Matthew] McConaughey
Studio Big Wig Les Grossman- Tom Cruise
[Honorable Mentions]
Bill Hader... his character's name is Rob Slolom... [I knew he was an SNL member and thought this would be the movie that took him beyond that]
Reggie Lee as Flaming Dragon member Byong [who later got a role as Detective Woo on "Grimm"]

Notable Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Supporting Actor- Robert Downey Jr
Golden Globe- Best Supporting Actor- Robert Downey Jr
Golden Globe- Best Supporting Actor- Tom Cruise


First Things First...

Now, this isn't me knocking Heath Ledger. I loved him in "The Patriot" and "A Knight's Tale" [heck, "Brokeback" as well]. His death was a tragedy that jostled me a bit when I was in college.

But I retain to this day that this was Robert's Oscar and there was no way Heath Ledger would have been in that conversation if he was still alive.

"Why The Dark Knight is OVERRATED" is an entry I've got planned for the future with Heath Ledger being the only thing in the (+) column.
The Joker was the only good watchable part of this movie. Doesn't mean I advocate for post-mortem Oscars...

This is how I see it:
My first experience seeing RDJ act was mind-blowingly amazing. It didn't feel like an actor playing a role. It felt someone who lived and breathed it, the likes of which I hadn't seen before.
I can watch "Tropic Thunder" now and still not see Robert. I see this hilarious character with most of the best lines in the movie.

The First Time

When "Tropic Thunder" came out in theaters, I seriously considered seeing it but ultimately didn't because I'd never seen an R-rated movie in theaters before.

I remember seeing the trailers, thinking they were freaking hilarious. But the one thing I couldn't wrap my head around was one particular quote. Maybe it was the exaggerated voice RDJ was going for in this role, but it took me a couple weeks to figure out he was saying:

"I'm a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude!"

Seriously, I think my head exploded trying to comprehend it. Maybe because it just sounded AWESOME... in a trippy nerdtastic sort of way!

But after seeing the movie, all of it came together... but still trippy

The only faces I recognized were Ben Stiller and Jack Black... all of that would soon change.

Finally saw this at my college's movie night Fall of 2008 (with my fellow animé club friend Andrew) and we love every minute of it. Laughed the entire time.

There was one cringe-worthy moment and it was when Jack Black dig through his loincloth ... I didn't know the [expletive] was going on there... when he pulled out a gun, I breathed a huge sigh of relief because it just didn't look right.

Another standout (other than RDJ) to me was Tom Cruise... who I had NO idea was in this movie until the end credits. I just saw this muscular balding guy who likes to groove to Flo Rida (I liked "Low" already but will forever associate it with this movie :P). The dance moves were so trippy good.

And if you wanna get technical, there was a LOT of trippiness in this movie...

The Story

 ...again... mind the spoilers

 This is a movie about making a movie based on a memoir by a member of the U.S. Army who was rescued from a Vietnam prison camp.

 ...But before we see any of this, we see 4 fake trailers starring the actors in this Vietnam movie.

* Alpha Chino's "Booty Sweat" commercial
*Tugg Speedman's latest installment of his "Scorcher" franchise- Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown ["who left the fridge open?"]
*Jeff Portnoy's comedy "The Fatties" (think "Nutty Professor: The Klumps")
*Kirk Lazarus's latest- "Satan's Alley" (think "Brokeback Mountain" but with monks instead of cowboys, co-starring "MTV Best Kiss Award winner" Tobey Maguire)

(btw, who do I see about getting these movies made for real? With RDJ channeling Russell Crowe in "Satan Alley's. Now that dude who's won Oscars!)

The first 10 minutes [mind you, I'm going by the director's cut version here] show a climatic finale set in the Vietnam War, an illusion that breaks when we see the director and crew-- this was a movie they were filming.

Apparently Tugg Speedman is having trouble with one of his lines and Kirk Lazarus storms off set in the face of Damien's lackluster directing style.

Everything is literally going wrong only one week into the shoot.

So the man behind the war memoir tells Damien to take his cast into the jungle to scare them into doing some real hardcore acting. He leaves us prematurely thanks to a random landmine in the middle of a clearing.

Ultimately, the movie does get made as planned. Tugg Speedman gets kidnapped by the indigenous people (I use this term cuz I don't know if they're Laotian or Burmese, it's never made clear) and the other actors have to rescue him.
Their exploits become the documentary "Tropic Blunder" that apparently earns Tugg an Oscar [his former captors, in an alternate ending, believe this is compensating for the "Simple Jack" Oscar snub].

The Characters

But everything that happens in between... that's what makes this gold. The actors (all playing actors) have to work together to achieve their objective. Along the way, there's a lot of butting heads, but also moments of clarity when their issues boil to the surface where they can resolve.

I'm still working on the notion of a drinking game because there are so many great running jokes in this movie :P

Let's start with the newbie: Kevin Sandusky

He's the epitome of the "good student"... he did all the work for this movie, read the book and script and was the only cast member to participate in boot camp.
Yet all the other actors can never remember his name :P one "fake" name he got was Radar... I didn't get the reference until I saw a couple episodes of M*A*S*H (this came about randomly but I wouldn't mind a revisit)
Ironically, he was the sanest member of the group and talks them down when "the dudes begin to emerge"

Hip-hop rapper Alpha Chino brings up his products Booty Sweat & Bust-a-nut for almost every reference the other actors make to their previous roles.

Pretty much every scene where he's attacking Kirk Lazarus for going too method with his character is hilarious. Great interaction between these two. Especially since it's a black man criticizing an Australian for playing a black man

Alpha Chino: I thought I just had to represent because they had one good part for a black man and gave it to Crocodile Dundee
Lazarus: Pump your brakes, kid. That man's a national treasure.

Then later in the movie, one of the indigenous points out that he's not the real Al Pacino, giving a laundry list of his best movies. Eventually this escalates into the final shootout, but I just lose it at this line from Alpha:

"Get the **** out of here, that's another dude all together!"

[And I'm not gonna lie, I saw "Dog Day Afternoon" and still want to see "Carlito's Way" because of that set of dialogue... if you'll notice, also, Bill Hader wears a hat that says "Scent of the Woman" at the movie location]

5-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus is a Australian method actor. So method that he doesn't drop character until after the DVD commentary. For the role of the African-American army Sergeant Lincoln Osiris, he goes to Singapore for a controversial medical procedure to have his skin tinted. Yep, he took Blackface to the extra mile, and more or less based his voice and dialogue on stereotypes.

In the epic climax scene, he has a conniption, completely loses character and realizes "I think I might be nobody"
But before that, there are too many good lines to list here. While not every word is intelligible (hell, I still haven't figured out a couple lines of dialogue), almost everything of his mouth... OMG... I can't help wondering how much improv went into that.

Jeff Portnoy is a gross-out comic actor who specializes in farts and an ongoing drug addiction. After losing his "supply" to a bat (totally out of nowhere!), he spends the whole "shoot" fielding withdrawal symptoms and carries himself as if no one else has any idea about it.

We have the dynamic duo of Cody (the special effects guy who might be a pyromaniac) and Four-Leaf (who, as it turns out, is the "Milli Vanilli of Patriots").

And the other duo of Les Grossman and Bill Hader (again, his character's name is Rob Slolom, but c'mon, it's Bill Hader)... Bill Hader's trying so hard to fall in line with Les on everything he does, but I don't think Les really respects anyone. Not even brownnosers like him. He's almost more hilarious than Tom Cruise in the Flo Rida dance scene, actually.

Finally, the final scene-stealer: McConaughey as Tugg Speedman's true blue best friend/agent, Rick Peck...

I already loved me some McConaughey in all those chick movies he did (Kate Hudson is intolerable in "How to lose a guy in 10 days" but I always come back for him), but this was the movie that took me over as a fan.

Supposedly this role was originally going to be played by Owen Wilson and later went to McConaughey... for a reason I don't want to go through here. In fact, it's something I completely forget about except when I muse about the "what could have been" scenario with this movie. I'm sure he would have been great, but... yeah, I'll say it again, I love me some McConaughey.
His running joke throughout the movie: making sure Tugg Speedman has TiVo... to the point where he flies off to the jungle to give it to him.

A Word about Commentary and Censorship

I'd only recommend it if you'd seen the movie so much that you know the dialogue well... or heck, I'd recommend it if you're not up for watching the movie and just want to be treated to a lot of good laughs.

Two sets of commentary exist on my Blu-ray but I'd only listened to the actors' commentary- Ben Stiller, Jack Black and RDJ [who is in character up until the ending credits!!]

They talk over almost the whole movie, but it's such good fun I don't really mind.

If I wasn't running long already, I would have mentioned on my "Purple Rain" entry that I refuse to see it on cable unless it's a VH1 or music channel. Saw a major hackjob on a low numbered channel that even cut songs in half.

With "Tropic Thunder," I cannot watch it on TV unless it's a movie channel like HBO.

a) because I hate the voice who dubs over Robert's cussing- sounds nothing like him
b) "the full retard" scene

As if Robert doing blackface wasn't controversial enough, there's also the scene where Kirk Lazarus explains to Tugg Speedman what went wrong with "Simple Jack," the movie where Speedman plays a "mentally impaired farmhand who can talk to animals"

I think I read somewhere that a website was created for Simple Jack and due to protests, it was taken down.

I understand why that's a heated topic, but to say "Never go full special" just sound STUPID to me... nobody outside this movie's edited version has ever used that phrase to describe someone going too method while playing someone with a mental disability.

"Watched a lot of 'special' people, all the 'special' stuff they did"...
it just doesn't work, I'm sorry

A Nod to the Writer/Director

I gotta single out Ben Stiller. 12 years prior to this movie, he had a small role in the Speilberg war movie "Empire of the Sun" where he had the lightbulb idea "what would it be like to actually make one of these Vietnam war movies?"
Great writing and great directing on his part.

Some of the jokes probably also came from Justin Theroux, who many know as Jennifer Aniston's steady fiancé. (Yeah, I know he acts occasionally, but whatever). After this movie's success, he was brought on to co-wrote the script for "Iron-Man 2." [After returning to the film a year ago, the first time I saw it since its release, I decided that this degree of humor didn't feel as natural in that capacity] 

The Genre

As far as the genre of movie goes, I'd only seen "Platoon." In part because it won the Best Picture Oscar in my year (1986) but also to see that infamous pose Tugg Speedman does in the movie.
:shudder: That movie did its joke all right, had me convinced that they were really out there in that harsh terrain at a difficult time in American history. I really liked Willem Dafoe in the movie, but when he died... thanks to Tom Berenger's character (another army member that went dark-side on him)... that broke me. I lost all sense of feeling in my body for the rest of the movie.

I still do plan on see "Apocalypse Now" just because it's another great Vietnam movie, but never again with "Platoon" thanks to what I call "The Oliver Stone effect."

I was fine with the "Wall Street" movies, but "Joy Luck Club" didn't agree with me either. Also part of the reason, as much as I like seeing RDJ's movies, I cannot think to see "Natural Born Killers." That'd probably destroy me for a week instead losing a single day.

War movies might be the more realistic version, but I think I'd rather revisit Tropic Thunder a million times in my life than have to deal with another brush with "Platoon"

More on Downey

I don't remember where I found a list of the most anticipated movies of 2009, but as I went through it, I zeroed on in Sherlock Holmes. He's a figure I'd always been curious but never thought to look into. I looked up the movie on IMDB and [zoom in] saw that Robert would be playing the main role.
After I loved Robert in "Tropic Thunder," I made a note of this... the following year, I'd see 3 of his movies (one being Sherlock Holmes)... then I went to full-blown fangirl mode in 2011 after "Less Than Zero"... perhaps in February I'll go into that in length.

My last entry, I mentioned Prince got me started with my blogging so I probably wouldn't be here with that...
but Robert reinvigorated my writing in 2011 and got me even more enthused about multiple aspects of film beyond the actors.. so I might not be here movie-blogging without him.

Because of how good he is in this movie (and how unrecognizable he is), the "fangirl" reflex doesn't come into play here beyond the "Satan's Alley" trailer. I can just laugh and enjoy everyone and how they interact.

It's also worth it to mention that this is one of the few of his movies my dad will watch with me :P the genre might contribute but I think it's because the script is so good and so funny.

On the Rest of the Cast

Brandon T. Jackson, I later enjoyed in the "Percy Jackson" movies (even though they were NOTHING like the books) and I'm still disappointed his "Beverly Hills Cop" TV series didn't get the green light on TV.

Jay Baruchel, I'd later go see in my first R-rated theater film "She's Out of my League"... also loved him in "Fanboys"... Didn't know he was in "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" (I saw that for Kat Dennings) and he was among the reasons I found that movie unpleasant (that plus Kat's girl friend hit too close to home for me- one of my college roommates was like that).
It disappoints me he quit acting (as far as nerdy guys go, he's really cute) but glad he still does "How to Train Your Dragon" movies.

On Jack Black: I liked "School of Rock," but I think this movie made me love it. Not just because Ned is a more pleasant guy to be around than Jeff Portnoy, but I just found more to appreciate about that character with my enhanced knowledge of music and movies.

Tom Cruise is also pretty hilarious in an unexpected way. One of my top 3 performances of his (along with "Top Gun" and "Rock of Ages"). There was talk of him doing a Les Grossman spin-off movie... whatever happened with that? That'd be cool... again, along with A "Scorcher" movie and "Satan's Alley"

Coming Soon

Two words: Hayao Miyazaki

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