Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller’s comic take on Hollywood, tells the story of a group of actors shooting Damien Cockburn’s (Steve Coogan) Tropic Thunder, the film version of Vietnam veteran John “Four Leaf” Tayback’s (Nick Nolte) book Tropic Thunder about his war exploits. Stiller’s film has more clever inside-Hollywood jokes than laugh-loud funny ones, but there’s still plenty of comedy for the average viewer.
After a few days into the shoot, Cockburn’s film falls behind schedule and overbudget. This is due in part to the difficulty of working with a cast comprised of action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) who recently misfired with the drama Simple Jack in which he played a retarded character, Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) who has undergone pigmentation treatment to play African American Lincoln Osiris, and the heroin-addicted, funny fat man Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black). Studio executive Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) orders Cockburn to get the film back on track or it will be shut down. Tayback suggests Cockburn drop the actors in the jungle to create a sense of reality. The actors are given a scene list and a map and are told camera and special effects have been set up.
Speedman gets the group lost and they all leave him. Flaming Dragon, a Vietnamese drug gang capture Speedman. They recognize him and make him perform Simple Jack, the only movie they have at the camp. They also attempt to negotiate a ransom with Speedman's agent, Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey), but Grossman will have none of it, especially considering the amount they can make back from the insurance. The actors discover Speedman has been captured and devise a plan to break him out similar to the one in their script, but they only have blanks and no idea where they are at up against a fierce drug gang who knows the jungles.
Thankfully, Tropic Thunder stays funny throughout and keeps its tone consistent, from the faux trailers that precede the film to the awards ceremony that concludes it. Too many comedies get all sappy by the end, which has become an unfortunate trend in Hollywood started by American Pie and continued by Judd Apatow and his cohorts.
Downey Jr.’s Osiris is a classic character that could easily have been buffoonish and minstrel-esque, but he, the writers, and director Stiller strike the perfect tone. As director, Stiller also assembled a talented crew (director of photography John Toll, special effects supervisor Mike Meindarus) to create an authenticity to the war scenes of the film within the film.
The video was presented in 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p, and the visuals look very good in Blu-ray. All the colors were well rendered, from the lush green jungles, to the orange fireballs. The video was vibrant when it needed to be, such as the party sequence that was cut from the theatrical release or the commercial for Alpa Chino’s Booty Sweat. Toll’s work looks great and shouldn’t be dismissed around Award season just because it’s in a comedy.
The Dolby True HD audio makes great use of bass, particularly in the music and effects. The surround places you in the middle of the action scenes as the bullets and explosions go off. The dialogue in the action scenes was mix is tad low and was not easy to make out unless someone was yelling.
The disc is packed with Special Features. There are two commentary tracks. Filmmaker has Stiller, producer Stuart Cornfeld, production designer Jeff Mann, co-writer/exec. producer Justin Theroux, editor Greg Hayden, and DP Toll. They are altogether and talk about the film’s creation and point out cut scenes cut. Cast Commentaries has Stiller, Black, and Downey Jr. still in character as Lincoln Osirus and later Lazarus (who remarked in the film “Man, I don't drop character 'till I done the DVD commentary.”). It was shot the night of the film’s premiere and the trio are very funny together.
Other features include “Before the Thunder” (presented in High Definiton), a great look at pre-production; “The Hot LZ” (HD) is on the set; “Blowing S#%t Up” (HD) focuses on the effects of the two big explosion shots, in the opening and the bridge; “Designing the Thunder” (HD) covers production design; “The Cast of Tropic Thunder” (HD) presents little bios; Tom Cruise’s Make-Up test; Deleted and Extended Scenes and Alternate Ending (HD), all with commentary; and “Full Mags” (HD) presents the entire raw footage of two camera film magazine rolls as Stiller and Downey Jr. worked on a scene.
The two funniest features are “Rain of Madness” (HD), a 30-min faux documentary about director Cockburn and his Tropic Thunder, and the MTV Movie Awards spot. The former spoofs Coppola and his wife’s film Hearts of Darkness, while the latter is minute-for-minute the funniest thing on the disc as Stiller, Black, and Downey Jr. attempt to create a viral video capitalizing on Kung Fu Panda and Iron Man that will turn people on to Tropic Thunder. Stiller’s nephew is unimpressed as he awaits the release of The Dark Knight.
BD-Live Features include “Dispatches from the Edge of Madness,” Additional “Full Mags,” and Video Rehearsals.