Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder is a 2008 action comedy film directed by Ben Stiller and written by Stiller, Justin Theroux, and Etan Cohen. The film stars Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. as a group of prima donna actors making a Vietnam War film when their fed-up writer and director decide to abandon them in the middle of the jungle, forcing them to fight their way out.

Stiller initially had the idea for the film while playing a small part in Empire of the Sun, and later brought on Theroux and Cohen to help him complete the script. After the film was greenlit in 2006, filming took place in 2007 on the Hawaiian island of Kauai over 13 weeks, and was deemed the largest film production in the island’s history. The film had a large marketing promotion, including showing numerous screenings, selling the fictional energy drink advertised in the film, and posting faux websites for the characters, films, and products shown in Tropic Thunder.

The film met controversy among the disability advocacy community prior to its release on August 13, 2008. It received generally positive reviews with 83% and 71% ratings according the review aggregator websites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, respectively. It earned $26 million in its opening weekend.

During the filming of Vietnam veteran “Four Leaf” Tayback’s (Nick Nolte) memoir, the stars—fading action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), five-time Academy Award-winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.), rap star Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), low-brow drug-addled comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and character actor Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel)—behave unreasonably, resulting in a $4 million explosion going off with no cameras shooting. With filming a month behind schedule only five days into shooting, the media dubs the production “the most expensive war movie never made”. Rookie director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is ordered by studio executive Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) to get the production back on track or risk having it shut down. With inspiration from Tayback, Cockburn drops the spoiled actors into the middle of the jungle, where he installs hidden cameras and special effect explosions rigged so he can film “guerrilla-style”. The actors have only a map and a scene listing to guide them to the helicopter waiting at the end of the jungle. Shortly afterward, the director is blown up by a land mine left by the French, but thanks to his preceding diatribe, only Lazarus realizes his death was real.

Unbeknownst to the actors, they were dropped in the middle of the Golden Triangle, the home of the heroin-producing Flaming Dragon gang. The Dragons believe the actors to be DEA agents. When Tayback and pyrotechnics man Cody (Danny R. McBride) attempt to locate the now-deceased director, they are captured by the drug producers. In captivity, Tayback reveals he has never left the U.S. before, and originally wrote the book as a tribute. The actors trek through the hostile jungle, with Speedman the only one completely interested in finishing the movie.

After doing a “scene”, Portnoy’s stash of heroin is swept up by a passing bat, causing him to go into withdrawal. After Lazarus and Sandusky discover that the inept Speedman is leading them the wrong way, the rest split off from him, with Speedman continuing to follow the film’s script while the others attempt to escape the jungle. Speedman is soon captured and taken to the Flaming Dragon’s heroin factory, which he initially believes to be a POW camp from the script. The gang soon realizes that he is the star of the box office bomb Simple Jack (which happens to be the only movie they have on VHS) and they force him to reenact the film several times a day. The gang contacts Speedman’s agent, Rick (Matthew McConaughey), and Grossman and asks for a ransom. Grossman curses out the gang, later telling Rick that they can benefit more by collecting the insurance claim on Speedman’s death, offering the torn agent a share of the profits.

The other actors stumble upon the Flaming Dragon’s heroin factory. After seeing Speedman being tortured, they plan an ambush based on the film’s plot line. Kirk impersonates a farmer who has caught Jeff in his farm, distracting the armed guards as Chino and Sandusky sneak into the building the captives are held in. After the gang notices inconsistencies in Lazarus’ story, the actors open fire on the gang, temporarily subduing them despite being armed with only special effects blanks. Portnoy kidnaps the gang’s child leader from the fray in order to be led to the drugs. After barely defeating the prepubescent crime lord in combat, he finds an enormous mound of heroin; however, reflecting upon his failing low-brow movie career, he rejects the heroin and uses it instead to knock out two guards.

Portnoy, Chino, and Lazarus find Speedman brainwashed: after performing to an approving crowd several times a day, he now believes he is home. Before they can snap him out of it, Lazarus breaks down, as he has remained in character up to this point. He reveals that he is conflicted with his own identity, and Sandusky and Chino help him realize his identity as an Australian man and not the character Sgt. Osiris. With Speedman still dazed, they drag him out and attempt to escape in Cody and Tayback’s recaptured helicopter. The gang quickly rejoins, crossing a bridge which is rigged to detonate by Cody. Speedman asks to remain behind with his “family”, but he quickly returns with the murderous gang in hot pursuit. Tayback detonates the bridge just in time for Speedman to reach safety, and the actors and crew escape from the jungle (thanks to a timely arrival of Rick, who saves them from an RPG with a TiVo box). A documentary of the botched production is made from the hidden camera footage, and results in a multiple Academy Award-winning blockbuster film. The film breaks Speedman’s streak of flops and he wins the award for Best Actor. The film ends with Grossman dancing to “Get Back” by Ludacris during the cast curtain call.

Cast

  • Ben Stiller as Tugg Speedman: The highest-paid, highest-grossing action star ever who likes to be pampered and who took a disastrous turn in an attempt to be a serious actor.
  • Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus: An Australian multiple Academy Award-winning method actor who portrays the African American character Sgt. Osiris.[3]
  • Jack Black as Jeff “Fats” Portnoy: A drug addicted comedian-turned-actor well known for playing multiple parts and frequent use of flatulence in films. Black’s character imitates Ozzy by biting off a bat’s head in the film.
  • Nick Nolte as John “Four Leaf” Tayback: The author of Tropic Thunder, the novel for which the film is based on, who hatches the idea to drop the actors in the middle of the jungle.
  • Steve Coogan as Damien Cockburn: The director of the film based on Tayback’s book.
  • Jay Baruchel as Kevin Sandusky: A young actor who is the only one that read the script and attended a boot camp prior to the film.
  • Danny McBride as Cody Underwood: The special effects wizard behind the film.
  • Brandon T. Jackson as Alpa Chino: A rapper who is attempting to cross over into acting.
  • Bill Hader as Rob Slolom: Assistant and right hand man to Les Grossman.
  • Matthew McConaughey as Rick “Pecker” Peck: Tugg Speedman’s agent.
  • Tom Cruise as Les Grossman: The foul mouthed executive behind Tropic Thunder.
  • Brandon Soo Hoo as Tran: The young leader of the Flaming Dragon gang.
  • Reggie Lee as Byong: The second-in-command of the Flaming Dragon gang.
  • Trieu Tran as Tru: A soldier in the Flaming Dragon gang.
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~ by darkdestroyer on August 26, 2008.

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