Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Steve Coogan, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Love Hewitt
Written by: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen, based on a story by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux
Directed by: Ben Stiller
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material
Running Time: 107
Date: 08/13/2008

Tropic Thunder (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Jungle Feature

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Five actors, including washed-up action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), pathetic, farting comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and five-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), struggle on the set of an over-budget Vietnam war epic, based on a memoir. The original author, Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), suggests that the coddled actors be dropped in the jungle to face real terrors before they continue the film. Steve Coogan plays the British director wholly unsuited for this type of project. Written with actor Justin Theroux (Mulholland Drive), who does not appear here, Tropic Thunder is a rare Hollywood spoof that takes on the crazy system itself, rather than ridiculing its artists. Seemingly controlled by the media and shows like "Access Hollywood," actors, agents, producers and directors alike are forced into a kind of parody of themselves. (For example, if an actor plays developmentally disabled, it's aimed at the Oscars, rather than anything real.) As the actors attempt to figure out who they really are, the jokes come mainly from above the belt, and are much funnier than expected. Perhaps the funniest bit comes at the beginning, in the form of advertisements and trailers showing the actors at their "best." Tom Cruise is amazing as a Diet Coke-chugging producer, barking into a cell phone and brow-beating everyone around him. But Downey Jr. steals the film as an actor's actor, an Australian playing a black man (complete with surgically-darkened skin); it's a totally calculated "great performance," but not necessarily an easy or obvious one. Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel play the other two leads.

DVD Details: I haven't had a chance to look at Stiller's "director's cut," but I can say that it runs 121 minutes, which is about 14 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. Dreamworks' new two-disc DVD comes with previews and two commentary tracks, a filmmaker track (with Stiller, the great cinematographer John Toll and others) and a star track (with Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr.). And yes, Downey does not drop his character until the commentary track is done. The second disc comes with a plethora of featurettes, deleted scenes, etc.

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