Tropic Thunder

MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +2

Content: -4

Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Steve Coogan, Bill Hader and Nick Nolte. Written by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen. Directed by Ben Stiller.

FILM SYNOPSIS: In the action-comedy Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller plays pampered action superstar Tugg Speedman, who is cast in the biggest, most expensive war movie ever produced. He sets out to Southeast Asia with a "Who's Who" of celebrity co-stars. They include Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), an intense, three-time Oscar -winning actor; Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), star of the popular gross-out comedy franchise "The Fatties"; multi-platinum hip-hop-star-turned-entrepreneur-turned-actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson); and first-timer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). Soon after the production begins the actors are thrown into a real-life situation and are forced to become the fighting unit they're portraying, in order to find a way out of the jungle in one piece.

PREVIEW REVIEW: My favorite kind of comedy is satire (The Hospital, Dr. Strangelove, Thank You for Smoking). Here, writer/director/actor Ben Stiller demonstrates his passion for the genre by spoofing war movies, show business and method acting. And hes very good at it. Alas, its difficult poking fun at those subjects without going a bit overboard. So while the film is clever, with some very funny moments, it is excessive, both with the R-rated content and the comic situations themselves.

At one time Hollywood went off the deep end with politically correctness. Now, it snubs the term for the sake of humor. As an example, Stiller, playing a movie star who made a serious film about a mentally challenged man (a la Dustin Huffman, Sean Penn, Tom Hanks ), has several scenes where this character is the source of comic ridicule. I can only assume that the laughs generated by these scenes from that movie-within-a-movie are supposed to be at Stillers expense, and the genre itself, not a person with a disability. Still, I kept wondering how relatives of a mentally challenged person would feel viewing this mockery. Or, the mentally impaired themselves.

Then theres Robert Downey Jr. playing a zealous actor having decided to play his role in black face. Though a fellow cast member, also an African American, puts the Downey character in his place for the stereotyping, still theres a lot of humor at the expense of blacks. Will different ethnic groups be okay with this or find it an example of whites exploiting them?

Tropic Thunder has a creative storyline, comradeship is exalted and its funny. But its also crude, and borders on both the offensive and the profane. Whats more, by the films third act, Stiller loses his way. All signs of satire have diminished, resulting in one more movie about ner-do-wells making good.

Fortunately, for those who prefer a more subdued, more highbrow form of entertainment, there are other types of comedies. Not in the theater, but available for those familiar with the classic section of your local DVD outlets. The following are a couple of examples of good satire that rely on wit rather than shock value to garner laughs.

DVD alternatives: The Party. Peter Sellers stars as a good-hearted bumbler who accidentally destroys a movie set, and then manages to do the same to a fancy party given by the films producer. There are a few risqu moments, but it is pretty tame by todays standards. And extremely funny and good-natured. Sellers is terrific.


Dr. Strangelove. Very dark comedy about a military commander who goes, well, a little funny in the head, and launches a hydrogen bomb aimed at Russia. Stanley Kubricks brilliant comedy pokes fun at politicians and the absurdity of war. Peter Sellers, George C. Scott head intrepid cast. (Caution: Adult subject matter).


The Mouse That Roared. Every time I see a film that attempts satire, I come back to this Peter Sellers classic. This English comedy has a small country declaring war on the U.S. in order to get federal relief from the conquering America.


The Wrong Arm of the Law. Peter Sellers stars in this spoof about gangsters disguised as the police in order to confiscate loot from apprehended thieves. Hilarious.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
DreamWorks Pictures

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: Throughout, including crude terms for male and female body parts.

Obscene Language: I simply lost count. It contains an endless stream of obscenities, from the s- and f-words to even worse.

Profanity: The film is also polluted with profanity, with many references to God, followed by a curse; one scene has a character using a blasphemous term, this being played for laughs.

Violence: They are making a Vietnam war movie, so we see a great deal of screen violence, most of which is played for laughs; a man gets blown up and the actors, assuming its phony, play with a remaining body part the head; the group is captured by drug dealers; again all the violence is cartoonish and meant to amuse, not startle (I admit, thats a strange observation). Blood: During a war scene, a man is shot in the head, blood gushes from the wound, then it begins to spray.

Sex: The film opens with a fake commercial featuring scantily clad women dancing; one sexual situation.

Nudity: None

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: None

Drugs: One of the leads is a drug user; he goes through withdrawals as he is denied access to cocaine while stranded in the jungle.

Other: None

Running Time: 95 minutes
Intended Audience: Adults

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