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March 31st, 2008:
A comedy about five actors who go on location and find themselves relying on their boot camp experiences when they get stuck in a real war-like situation.What to Expect: Ben Stiller
is one of the hardest comedic actors to judge; he is extremely funny and annoying at the same time. In the right movie with a tailor-made script and great comedic talent around him, he can be the funniest man in Hollywood. His best movies, like Zoolander and Meet the Parents, have parts that are specially made for him. However, when the script is not that great or does not fit his "annoyed guy" persona, then Stiller can single-handedly destroy that movie. Fortunately, his next project, Tropic Thunder, has both a great script written for him and a terrific cast that should combine to create an instant classic that will be enjoyed for years to come. Article continues below
The 1980's were the heyday of war movies, especially about Vietnam. Stiller really wanted to do one and kept going for auditions, but could not land one. He finally received a small part in Empire of the Sun in 1987. The other actors on the set had told him about these boot camps that actors attended to prepare to do war movies. They described them as "real and incredible experiences that changed their lives." Stiller found how serious these actors took themselves very funny and decided to try to parody it. He first tried to develop a skit that contrasted the experience of actors playing soldiers and actual soldiers in war. That skit did not turn out as funny as he had hoped. Then he decided to try to make a movie about actors getting stuck in the jungle and getting involved in a real war, sort of like Three Amigos in the jungle. He spent the next ten years working out the first act of the movie.
Stiller contacted Dale Dye for some inspiration. Dye actually runs these fake boot camps and worked with the casts of many war movies including Saving Private Ryan and Platoon. Dye told him lots of stories of the different celebrities he had worked with and also revealed that when Oliver Stone
sent his actors to train for Platoon, Stone had instructed Dye "to make it seem real and scare the sh*t out of them.
" Stiller loved that concept and decided to use it. His movie would now be about a director that gets fed up with his actors, so he dumps them in the middle of the jungle to fend for themselves. Stiller was encouraged by his progress but was still light years away from a complete screenplay, so he brought his friends Justin Theroux
and Etan Cohen (Idiocracy
) to help. Stiller had previously worked with Theroux on the sets of Zoolander and Duplex, but it is the first time he will be working with Cohen. The three continuously worked on the script developing it over a period of five years until they had satired the full spectrum of Hollywood.
The final screenplay revolves around five actors, each representing a Hollywood stereotype: Tug Speedman, an action star who is famous for making five sequels to one movie ala Sylvester Stallone and Rambo. Jeff "Fats" Portnoy, a comedic actor and a drug addict who is known for doing multiple parts in his movies and wearing fat suits, an obvious satire of Eddie Murphy
. Then there is the serious actor, Australian thespian Kirk Lazarus. His part in the movie is written for a black person so he undergoes a cosmetic procedure to make him look black. Then there is as Kevin Sandusky, an unknown actor trying to make it big. Rounding out the cast for the movie is Alpa Chino, a rapper turned actor. The actors are cast to star in the most expensive Vietnam War movie ever made based on a book written by an actual soldier. The director and the writer get fed up with their cast and decide to dump them in the middle of the jungle to toughen them up. In the jungle the actors get involved in a real conflict with a Heroin trafficking militia. The actors continue to think that it is all part of the training, not realizing that the war is so very real. They go on to defeat the militia and in the process make fun of every Hollywood stereotype.
The fake movie has a star studded cast, so the real movie assembled an ensemble to match. Obviously we have Stiller as Speedman. It is worth noting that the part is written for Stiller, so his little annoying quirks will fit perfectly in the character. The part of Portnoy was also created with an actor in mind, unfortunately that actor is Jack Black
. I really do not know what Stiller sees in Black, since he is better suited doing kids movies like Nacho Libre
and hosting Nickelodeon awards than starring in R rated comedies. The last time the two worked together they made Envy, one of the worst Stiller movies of all time. Stiller pitched the movie to him and Black eagerly agreed after reading the script. The third part, and perhaps the hardest, is that of Kirk Lazarus because of the racial issues involved. Stiller really wanted to get a serious respectable actor to play the part and was lucky to be able to recruit Robert Downey Jr
. Both Downey and Stiller were extremely careful not to make the character a racial caricature since the last time this was attempted was in 1987 when C Thomas Howell starred as a white student who pretends to be black to get a scholarship. The movie was met with huge backlash and bombed in the theaters. I really do not think that this is the same situation since Downey is not actually pretending to be black. Instead his character is a white guy trying to be black. As long as he sticks to that, he should ok. The last of the actors, Kevin Sandusky, is played by Jay Baruchel
. The part was originally supposed to be the "straight guy" role since he was just getting into Hollywood, but Baruchel changed all that when they started filming. He just began improvising and created an extremely funny character that Stiller decided to use. Finally rounding out the cast is Nick Nolte
as the movie's writer. Nolte was born to play the crazy Vietnam Vet role, so this should be natural for him. With the casting complete, Stiller was finally ready to realize his dream of going to a fake boot camp. Ironically, due to scheduling with Downey working on Ironman and Black's busy schedule, they were never able to go. Instead they had Dye join them on set to advise them. Kind of a let down since the entire point was for Stiller to go to the boot camp!
The final piece of the puzzle that makes this movie so great is the cameos. First there is Matthew McConaughey
as Speedman's agent. Originally that part belonged to Owen Wilson but Wilson dropped out to recuperate after his suicide attempt. Then there is a hilarious cameo by Tobey Maguire
(Spider-Man) in a fake trailer. However the funniest of the cameos belongs to none other than Tom Cruise
, who plays the financial backer for the movie. He actually has to wear a fat suit and a chest wig for the part. His character was so funny that they actually added more scenes for him. Unfortunately, Cruise just cannot take success without reminding the world just how crazy he is. An IMF photographer took some pictures
of Cruise in the suit and wig and gave it to a magazine to publish. When Cruise heard about this, he flipped out and sent out his legal team. As one editor described it, "It was crazy...We had at least four calls from publicists and two legal letters on Friday." The obvious question is: why make all this fuss about pictures from a movie that people are going to see anyway? Some tried to rationalize it by saying that he wanted to keep his involvement with a rival production company under wraps, but Cruise came back and said he is free to work with any project he chooses. So the real reason: Tom Cruise is crazy and loves to flex his muscles. None the less, his part is going to be hilarious and there is nothing he can do about it.In Conclusion:
Ben Stiller did a great job making fun of models without ever being involved in modeling. That is why I am so excited to see him parody Hollywood personas, something he has been around his entire life, in Tropic Thunder. The movie has all the pieces required for a great comedy: a funny screenplay, a great cast and lots of cameos. This is why Thunder will be the funniest movie of the year, worth watching and re-watching, just like Zoolander.Similar Titles: Three Amigos