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Watching Tropic Thunder made us very, very nervous. Featuring liberal use of the word ‘retard’, Vietnamese child gangsters and Robert Downey Jr. in full blackface, this is a movie that walks the line between outrageous comedy and offensiveness on a knife edge. Exactly where it lands is open to debate, but for the most part the film avoids punching downwards too hard, instead taking crude but hilarious swipes at the egos and eccentricities of modern Hollywood productions.
Ben Stiller directs and stars as Tugg Speedman, an action franchise star whose failed attempts at graduating to more serious projects has left him on the verge of oblivion. In his latest role as a heroic soldier in the film-within-a-film that is Tropic Thunder, he finds himself clashing with the ineffectual British director (Steve Coogan) and worse, out-acted at every turn by five time Oscar winner and devotee of the method Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), inexplicably playing a black soldier, complete with thick accent and artificially darkened skin.
After a series of mishaps – including the untimely, very messy demise of their director – the cast wind up lost in the Vietnamese jungle with fake weapons, a disputed map and a troupe of heavily armed local gangsters on their trail. Stiller’s character continues to delude himself that they’re still in a team-building exercise, and while Lazarus sees what’s really going on, he still can’t bring himself to break character until he’s recorded the movie’s DVD commentary.
With a cast that also includes Jack Black as a drug-addled gross-out icon in the vein of Klumps-era Eddie Murphy, Brandon T Jackson as a closeted gangsta rapper, Danny McBride as a trigger-happy pyrotechnics engineer and Tom Cruise on utterly ludicrous form as a hyper-aggressive studio exec, Tropic Thunder is so packed with male talent that it could easily have devolved into the comedy equivalent of a pissing contest.
However while it’s far from subtle, the film did manage to win us over with the sheer commitment to its own ridiculousness. Just over a decade has passed since the movie was released, but even today it’s hard to imagine how nervous it might make modern studios – which may account for the fact that no sequel has ever been forthcoming.
As ever, we’re here to do what Hollywood wouldn’t, so tune into this week’s episode to hear our sequel pitches for Tropic Thunder, in addition to our thoughts on everything from Jack Black’s blowjob skills to the level of shade directed at Russel Crowe, Sean Penn and Tom Hanks in this movie…
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Next week, we’re kicking off a brand new mini-season with one of the most ridiculous sci fi movies of recent years. Until then, happy listening and remember – everybody deserves TiVo.