Film Review: Tropic Thunder
Ben Stiller is way up there as one of Hollywood’s most successful comedians of the last ten years, as well as one of the most prolific. Part of that broad circle of Hollywood comedy buddies that includes Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughan, Owen and Luke Wilson and others dubbed “the Frat Pack”. He’s cropped up in cameos and more major roles alongside all of these actors in dozens of films over the last few years, from Starsky and Hutch to Dodgeball, Anchorman to Tenacious D, while still finding time to be the comic lead in films as varied as kids’ flick Night at the Museum, romcom Along Came Polly, and his hit relationship comedy Meet the Parents and its sequel Meet the Fockers.
Yet as entertaining as Stiller may well have been in any number of roles over the last few years, there remains one movie that stands out perfectly styled head and shoulders above the rest: 2001’s Zoolander. A near perfect 90 minutes of comic insanity, this tale of a ridiculously stupid male supermodel getting caught up in a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia has already gone down as one of the undisputed comedy classics of the last couple of decades.
Stiller not only starred as the eponymous Derek Zoolander – alongside fellow Frat Packers Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell – he also wrote and directed, surprising many with his ability to turn out such an accomplished and tightly-produced film. The surprise was largely thanks to his previous directorial effort having been the Jim Carrey vehicle The Cable Guy back in 1996, a so-so offering that many saw as the moment that Carrey’s rubber-faced psychosis became a little hard to bear. Yet, though this is often forgotten, Stiller was also the director of once-iconic 1994 Generation X comedy Reality Bites, a neat and stylish exploration of twentysomething love and disillusionment. Three films to his name as director, two of them top quality, and the most recent a modern classic – little wonder Tropic Thunder, in which Stiller again writes, directs and stars, has been so anticipated.
Then there’s the plot, which sounds like it could well be the kind of Zoolander mark two that so many of his fans have been hoping for. A bunch of idiotic Hollywood superstars set out to make an iconic, Apocalypse Now-style war movie, only to find themselves in the middle of a real war… and not realizing. With the likes of Jack Black, Steve Coogan and Robert Downey Jr filling out the roles of the other stars – all with Zoolander-style implausible names like Tugg Speedman and Kirk Lazarus – and cameos from the likes of Nick Nolte and Tom Cruise, hamming it up brilliantly as over-the-top producer Les Grossman, the cast is certainly there to go with the ridiculous plot, just as it was with Zoolander and its cameos from people like David Bowie and Jon Voight.
But promise is one thing – the real question is can it possibly live up to expectations?
Well, the film’s been out in the US for a few weeks now, topping the box office for much of that time, and with almost unanimously rave reviews from American critics and audiences alike. Big budget Hollywood blockbusters have been spoofed countless times before, so finding new and funny angles is a tricky one – as anyone unfortunate enough to have seen the likes of Meet the Spartans and Superhero Movie can attest – yet Stiller has, once again, pulled it off with aplomb. This is one big budget comedy that’s not to be missed.