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Sgt. Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) was a war hero in Vietnam, he wrote a book about his memories which is now being made into a motion picture. It’s an all star cast, we have comedian and drug addict Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), method actor extraordinaire Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), action hero Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) add rapper Alpa Chino and rookie Kevin Sandusky and you’ve got a cast who just can’t gel. This is shown when director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) misses the most expensive shot of the movie that forces producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise – who is a highlight throughout the film) to threaten shut down on the entire picture. Tayback offers Cockburn a way out, put the boys in the real jungle and set up hidden cameras to watch them.
When Cockburn is blown up on a real landmine, Speedman believes it all to be smoke and mirrors and tries to make the film. But when a Vietcong gang think they are being invaded by the US military, guerrilla film-making becomes guerrilla warfare.
This has to be one of the most expensive comedy movies made, the special effects are incredible, sadly the rest of the film doesn’t match the explosions. The main source of humour comes from Kirk Lazarus whose blacked up white man provides us with quotes we can remember. The rest of the film seems to rely on the same Ben Stiller character we’ve seen before, the dim-wit who believes he is the best.
It’s not a terrible movie, it’s certainly watchable, although missing something. Matthew McConaughey plays the role that would usually go to Owen Wilson and not only does he sound like him, he also looks a bit like him too. Jack Black, Alpa Chino and Kevin aren’t really explored as characters and do nothing to add to the humour or the story. As mentioned the only real source of the laughs comes from Lazarus but even they seem a tad shy. He is a white man that has blacked up for this role yet whilst a shocking move, isn’t really spoken about during the film, nor does the humour come close to pressing the boundaries as much as this one act.
For all its promise the only thing that you’ll walk away from this with is remembering Tom Cruise in a fat suit. Scarily it could be like looking into a mirror if he lost it all and the dancing, whilst creepy, does put the much needed smile on your face. Tropic Thunder proves it’s hard to make a Vietnam movie and not use the same soundtrack used in every other Vietnam film, but it also proves that its hard to find humour in a war zone.