Case Number 15048


DreamWorks // 2008 // 120 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 19th, 2008

The Charge

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

Opening Statement

Ben Stiller's broadside attack on Hollywood excesses and celebrity inanity hits Blu-ray with a bang. Les Grossman would be pleased.

Facts of the Case

Three megastar actors team up to film the most realistic war movie ever made: Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller, There's Something About Mary), an action icon desperate to salvage a flagging career; Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man), world-renowned Oscar-winner who undergoes surgery to play a black man in the film; and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black, Kung Fu Panda) a drug-addled hack comedian.

To get these diverse personalities to focus, the in-over-his-head director arranges for them to be dropped in the middle of the jungle and having the whole film shot guerilla style -- until of course things go immediately wrong, and the guys find themselves in the middle of a real war-zone.

The Evidence

Tropic Thunder is a very good comedy. Not quite a great one, or as great as it could have been, but anything these days that can string together more than four concurrent series of laughs is a genre winner. There are moments when the film is laugh-out-loud hilarious and moments when it tries too hard and fails, but the premise is brilliant, the acting legendary, and that bloody head scene is alone worth the rental price.

Really, the lambasting Stiller administers to the Hollywood crowd is nothing less than scathing. The actors are self-involved, deeply flawed (read: @#$%-ed up) and completely oblivious. And the executives and agents are even worse.

I love that.

What else I love is the talent level that joined up to take part in the brutalization. By this time everyone has no doubt heard about the ballyhooed effort Tom Cruise turned in as scummy studio honcho Len Grossman and it is indeed history-making stuff, but I've got to give Matthew McConaughey the award for Best Performance as a Hollywood Douchebag. As Tugg's talent manager, the guy consistently steals scenes and the throwaway gag with his son is the funniest thing in the film.

The front three -- Stiller, Black and Downey, Jr. -- bear the most comedic burden and do so successfully. Ironically, Black's character is probably the least funny, compared to Stiller's idiotic, oblivious Speedman and especially Downey, Jr.'s amazing Kirk Lazarus. Really, it's unfair what Robert Downey Jr. does to his cast-mates in this film, consistently upstaging them. The black-face received some play on the Drudge Report, sure, but the controversy is unfounded -- the joke is on Kirk Lazarus and the Hollywood mentality of acting as the be-all-end-all of careers. Brandon T. Jackson's Alpha Chino is there to consistently make Lazarus look ridiculous anyway.

Speaking of controversy, about that Simple Jack thing. For my day job, I work at a non-profit that serves people with disabilities and I was getting calls and e-mails about protests of this movie. People, give it a rest. Simple Jack, the disabled horse whisperer that Tugg Speedman plays to earn actor credibility is such an outrageous caricature, and, as is the case with Kirk Lazarus, the joke is so clearly on the sad and curious phenomenon of stars pursuing such Oscar bait performances -- and I'm talking the serious ones which are typically more offensive than anything found in this movie. Go in with that mentality and bask in the brilliance of Kirk Lazarus's "full retard" monologue.

As much fun as I had with Tropic Thunder, the film did lose a few steps at the end, trading in big-ass action for the subversive comedy it had been running with prior. The stabbing kid scene is pretty great, but I'm still not on board with the Tivo-as-rocket-interceptor gag.

On Blu, the production shines. The 2.40:1 widescreen high-def transfer is gorgeous. The jungle aesthetics pop off of the screen in thick, green, highly-detailed glory. And those explosions -- outstanding! This is just a sharp visual presentation from top to bottom, bringing the gloss and clarity found in top-tier Blu-rays. The TrueHD 5.1 track matches visuals beat-by-beat, blasting out both the Crystal Method soundtrack and the boisterous action movie sound effects -- fireballs will shake your living room and the zig-zagging bullets will ricochet from wall to wall.

A ton of extras: two commentaries, one with Stiller and his producers and the other with Stiller, Black and Downey, Jr. still in the Kirk Lazarus character, which is hilarious; robust featurettes -- in HD -- looking at the making-of the film, the execution of the opening combat scene, the pyrotechnics and production design; cast interviews; "Rain of Madness," the faux-documentary about the film, itself a very funny piece of comedy filmmaking; two so-so deleted scenes and a funny alternate ending, which I think I actually prefer, accompanied with optional commentary; outtakes with Downey, Jr. and Stiller; and the MTV Movie Awards sketch. As of this writing, BD-Live features were unavailable.

Closing Statement

It's funny and loud and savagely satirical and awesome in high-def. Tropic Thunder is worth a tour. The director's cut tosses in some extra bits, including nipples.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Drink Booty Sweat.

Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 95
Audio: 95
Extras: 90
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile
Studio: DreamWorks
Video Formats:
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)

Audio Formats:
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

* English
* French
* Portuguese
* Spanish

Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Distinguishing Marks
* Two Commentaries
* Featurettes
* Cast Interviews
* "Rain of Madness" Mockumentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Ending
* Outtakes
* MTV Movie Awards Sketch

* IMDb

* Cinema Verdict Review - Tropic Thunder