One of the most raucously hilarious comedies of the year stands tall on DVD with the Tropic Thunder: 2-Disc Unrated Director’s Cut. Loaded with features that provide insight and entertainment, this is one DVD set that is well worth the purchase price.
Tropic Thunder comes off like a sort of Hearts of Darkness riff. Built around the idea of dense actors set to make the ultimate Vietnam War movie, Ben Stiller’s movie is a barbed look at the “Hollywoodizing” of war. Everything in the film industry is given a look under Stiller’s unremitting eye, from narcissistic and oblivious actors to preposterous trailers and product placements. Nothing is sacred and nothing is safe.
Stiller stars as flagging action hero Tugg Speedman, the highest-grossing action star on the planet. His status is deteriorating, however, and his last several movies have bombed. Tugg is one of several actors enlisted by director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan in an uproarious turn) to create the definitive war movie. Along with Speedman, rap star Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), drug-addicted comic Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), character actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), and five-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) are dispatched to make the film.
Cockburn is having a hell of a time controlling the egos of his actors, unfortunately, and the movie is way over budget and way behind schedule. This prompts studio exec Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) to push the director to get his shit together and get things back on schedule. With a plan in motion to get some “real emotion” out of the actors, Cockburn teams with the author of the book the film is based on, Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) to drop the guys in the middle of nowhere and shoot the results. Soon, however, the ignorant actors find themselves facing off against a real adversary.
At the heart of Tropic Thunder are the remarkable characters, each one drawn from a possible real-life counterpart with delectable parody and humour. Downey Jr. is absolutely astounding as Lazarus (there have even been some rumours about a possible supporting actor Oscar for his performance), an actor who is so dedicated to his role that he undergoes a skin pigmentation process to become the African American character he will play in the film. He stays in character at all times, even when things go terribly wrong.
Speedman is another marvellous character and Stiller does really well here. As a failing action star with one silly sequel after another, the anticipated war epic is his ticket to a better place. It is also his last shot, as his attempt at serious drama in an I Am Sam-esque film called Simple Jack went unpleasantly askew. It is this stab at drama that generates one of the most hilarious and decisive sequences in the film, as Speedman and Lazarus examine the principles behind playing mentally-challenged characters.
In a classic case of “missing the point,” several disability “advocacy” groups chimed in about the faux film Simple Jack. With concerns over how the movie portrayed mental retardation and allegations of “hate speech” despite the characters being fictional and intended for satirical purposes, many groups boycotted Tropic Thunder. The condemnation misses the intrinsic point that it is not handicapped individuals that are the targets of parody here, but rather the ignorant performers doing anything for critical applause. Amusingly, the DVD includes a PSA from DreamWorks that discourages use of the “R-word.”
As such a satire, Tropic Thunder works wonders. Stiller has assembled a host of characters that are so unaware and so big-headed that they cannot detect between the authentic and the imaginary world of cinema. In essence, this is a movie about self-centered apathy and lack of sensitivity as much as it is a satire of Hollywood archetypes. Stiller, Black, and Downey Jr. have created characters that are simply senseless yet admired worldwide. Call it a Celebration of the Moronic.
The 2-Disc Unrated Director’s Cut unpacks a pair of commentaries on the first disc, the most entertaining of which features Stiller, Black, and Downey Jr. There are some added minutes to the director’s cut, although nothing stood out as all that different from the theatrical version of the picture.
It is the second disc that really brings this set home. Featuring a slew of bonus features that range from behind-the-scenes featurettes to mockumentaries, this is where the set finds its merit. Check out Rain of Madness for a very witty riff on Werner Herzog and a mockumentary that goes behind-the-scenes of the movie within the movie. While the disc contains only a small amount of deleted and extended scenes, they are still worth a look.
An alternate ending offers a slightly altered take on the end of the picture, but “Full Mags” delivers a compelling look at the actors at work in uncensored, unedited chunks of raw footage. Robert Downey Jr.’s scenes with the water buffalo are precious. Also included is the side-splitting Tropic Thunder sketch from the MTV Movie Awards in which Downey Jr., wearing an Iron Man mask, gets to pound on a panda-head-wearing Jack Black.
The Tropic Thunder: 2-Disc Unrated Director’s Cut is a pleasure. Hilarious from start to finish, the film calls back to the politically incorrect craziness of Blazing Saddles. And the bonus features are truly worth a look, so don’t skimp and pick up this one today. Oh, and don't forget the Booty Sweat.