"Of the ten men sent, four returned. Of those four, three wrote books about what happened. Of those three books, two got published. Of those two, just one got a movie deal.
This is the story of the people who attempted to make that movie."
Tropic Thunder is a satirical American action comedy film (with more focus on the comedy) from 2008, based (very loosely) on the train wreck that was the production of the classic Apocalypse Now.Movie producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) is in need of an award-winning movie and decides to make the best and most expensive Vietnam War movie ever. He hires rookie director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) and five very different actors, who cause quite a stir in the press due to their very different backgrounds:
The action star: Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), whose attempts at serious acting (most notoriously, the Oscar Bait film Simple Jack) have been disastrous so far, nearly ruining his career.
The award-winning Australian actor: Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.), who is known for his violent tabloid antics and for taking Method Actingup to eleven — most recently, going through cosmetic surgery to play an African-American.
The comedian: Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), who specializes in disgusting and vulgar comedy and playing multiple roles in one movie. He's also addicted to "jelly beans" (fake spoiler: They aren't really jelly beans).
The popular rapper turned actor: Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), who markets an energy drink called "Booty Sweat" and doesn't take kindly to Kirk's portrayal of a black man. He's also gay on the down-low, and wants to date Lance Bass.
And the unknown actor: Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), who was the only one who had to audition for his role and the only one (aside from Lazarus, maybe) who actually prepared for it.
Naturally, nothing goes as planned, much to Cockburn's frustration. In a matter of days, the movie is way over budget and the actors won't cooperate. Having finally become fed up with the actors, and following the suggestions of the film's subject and consultant John "Four Leaf" Tayback (Nick Nolte), he decides to drop the actors in the jungle and simulate realistic warfare, hoping to get real emotions from them. This plan drives production even further off the rails when the cast runs afoul of a Laotian drug ring known as Flaming Dragon, and the actors end up having to become the soldiers they're playing, despite not knowing how to use their weapons or navigate through the jungle.A critical and financial success, this rude, crude, and very funny film mocks the way Hollywood works and, to that end, it showcases filmmaking tropes like a peacock displaying his feathers, and the extremelyGenre Savvy characters poke fun at them.A spinoff focusing on the Les Grossman character has been announced. Little else is known about it.
Portnoy's trailer for The Fatties: Fart 2 is an awful lot like The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps. Both feature an obese family all played by the same actor, and lots of Toilet Humor.
The best parody of all might be the one that, technically, isn't ever in the movie proper: The second disc in the two-disc DVD set has an in-universe making-of documentary in the mold of "Heart of Darkness: a Filmmaker's Apocalypse."
And of course, the movie they're trying to shoot is a parody of Platoon and Apocalypse Now, and even has a Shout-Out or two to both later on.
The scene where the truck is blown up (with the slow motion, "deafness" and falling black shards) is a spoof of Tom Hanks going into shock on D-Day in Saving Private Ryan.
All-Star Cast: In-universe, obviously. Out of universe... let's just say Alpa and Kevin's actors not as heavily bandied about as much as the three main actors is intentional.
In-universe... sort of. Kevin's actor (like in Real Life, arguably) is the most obscure of the five; it was to be his star-making role. Alpa's actor is a famous rap star in-universe, but has rarely or never been in movies, like the actor.
Out of universe, on top of Black, Downey and Stiller, it also had Nick Nolte and Tom Cruise in major roles. That's a fair amount of star power for a comedy.
Armored Closet Gay: Alpa Chino has shades of this when you look at his career as a supposed sex-maniac. Granted, if you listen to the song, "I Love The Pussy," it sounds like a guy who's obsessed with keeping himself in there.
Armor-Piercing Question: "Or are you a dude who has no idea what dude he is, and claims to know what dude he is, by playing other dudes?" Basically, Speedman is pointing out that Kirk method acts so hard that he loses his true self. During their conversation Kirk stays in character because he can't remember who he is any more and breaks down crying saying that he's a no body.
Based on a Great Big Lie: Spoofed. We're told at the start this is a record of a true story. We find out halfway through that Four Leaf, the "Vietnam War veteran" who wrote the book the film-within-the-film is based on (and is on the crew, suggesting the Enforced Method Acting concept), is a total liar.
Even better: He does the commentary as Kirk Lazarus in character as Lincoln Osiris. He's "a dude playin' a dude, disguised as another dude!"
Recently seen in the cable-TV snark-hosted replays, when focusing on the failed attempt at infiltration disguised as a Chinese farmer: "Watch Robert Downey Jr. pretend to be an Aussie who is pretending to be black who is pretending to be Asian."
He gets so into his character he has to be reminded at one point that he is Kirk Lazarus.
Bi the Way: It's hinted that Kirk Lazarus is bi when he says, "Everybody's gay once in a while. This is Hollywood!"
Given his fake trailer where he plays a gay monk and how seriously he takes his roles, it's not much of a hint.
To go into more detail Kirk really takes his roles seriously and tries to become them, spending months at a time in character and living their lives. Considering his comment above and that he played a gay monk we can take this as a big, fat yes.
Berserk Button: Portnoy was really sick and tired of people laughing at his farts...
Not as serious, but Kirk comes extremely close to breaking character as Alpa reels off every Aussie joke he can think of. Which is itself a result of his getting pissed off at Lazarus' Uncle Tomfoolery.
Brick Joke: Tobey Maguire's role in Satan's Alley gets him nominated for an Oscar.
Also a meta-example: Kirk Lazarus, while in his Sgt. Osiris mode, mentions that he "won't break character until the DVD release." Sure enough, when Tropic Thunder was release on DVD, Robert Downey Jr. does the commentary in-character to Kirk Lazarus, himself acting in-character to Sgt. Osiris.
Cluster F-Bomb: Personified in Les Grossman, especially when Flaming Dragon call with a ransom demand after they capture Tugg. Gratefully transcribed from the DVD:
Grossman: This is Les Grossman. Who is this?
Flaming Dragon Mook: This is Flaming Dragon!
Grossman: Oh. Okay. Flaming Dragon. Fuckface. First, take a step back, and literally FUCK YOUR OWN FACE!! *Beat* Now, I don't know what kind of Pan-Pacific bullshit power play you're trying to pull on me, but Asia, Jack, is my territory. So whatever you're thinking, you better think again! Otherwise I'm gonna have to head down there and I will rain down an ungodly fucking firestorm upon you! You're gonna have to call the fucking United Nations and get a fucking binding resolution to keep me from fucking destroying you. I'm talking about scorched Earth, motherfucker! I will massacre you! I WILL FUCK YOU UP!!!
Enforced Method Acting: An In-Universe example; Damien really takes this to the extreme when he drops his actors in the middle of a real war zone. It still doesn't work, except on Speedman — who insists everything is a trick even after Cockburn explodes into giblets.
Everyone Is Bi: Referenced at one point ("Everyone's gay once in a while!", after Alpa Chino accidentally outs himself), and hinted to be completely true in-story.
Fake Action Prologue: Two sets — the opening of the movie is some Fake Trailers for films the lead characters are in (if you watch it on DVD you might skip these, figuring they're just more ads before the start of the film); then we get to the big Vitenam fight scene, which we eventually discover is just a movie they're shooting.
Subverted with Speedman telling Kirk,"Or are you a dude who has no idea what dude he is, and claims to know what dude he is, by playing other dudes?" which to the other actors sounds like gibberish, but describes Kirk so well that he breaks down into tears.
Infant Immortality: Despite being very close to an explosion, none of the children in the movie die.
One of them even gets crushed through several floors by Jack Black and survives. It could just be because he's a Badass, though.
I'm Cold... So Cold...: Played "straight" in the movie within the movie, when Four-Leaf loses his hands trying to deflect a stick grenade from detonating near the evac chopper. Parodied for "real" when Tugg claims to not be able to feel his legs (for real) while they're trying to escape from the drug compound. Turns out it's just that he's sitting in a pool of cold, muddy water.
Lazarus: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Count toothpicks, cheat at cards. Autistic, sure. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded. Peter Sellers, Being There Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don't buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, I Am Sam. Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed...
Introdump: It is literally the second scene in the film.
Ironic Echo: "I can't feel my legs." First as part of the film within a film, and then said during the final escape sequence. Except that Tugg's able to cry and can't feel his legs because he's sitting on a cold puddle.
"I don't know what it's called. I just know the sound it makes when it takes a man's life."
"I think I know a prop head when I see one!" says Tugg as he hefts what is an obvious prop head, seeing as Cockburn's actor is still alive...
Well, if you want to go there, "Osiris' rifles are full of blanks, Tran's aren't." Obviously, all the guns are full of blanks. In the same vein, the bridge demolition took a lot more work than one guy with dynamite sticks and det-cord stringing stuff to a single clacker. Indeed, the making of the movie about making a movie that never got made must have been epic.
Lost in Character: Kirk Lazarus has this as a recurring problem for his roles. Eventually, Tugg gets traumatized into this.
Magic Plastic Surgery: Kirk's transformation from white to black in itself is not that impressive. What's really impressive is that it "wears off" over time.
Not that unrealistic; the book Black Like Me is a real-life account of a white man masquerading as black for a social experiment, and has him having to recharge his "blackness" several times over six weeks. The surgery in his case, however, was very different from what Kirk is shown to have done.
The Man Who Knew Too Little: It takes Speedman a looong time to realize that he is no longer filming a movie. It didn't help that everything during his ordeal was supposed to occur in the script. One can make the argument that, subconsciously, he knew everything fell apart when Cockburn "disappeared" and that he was lying to himself to keep sane.
Mean Character, Nice Actor: Tugg Speedman despite playing action heroes. He donates to charity to save pandas, co-wrote a children's book and is close with his agent.
Meta Casting: All over the place, you can almost see the actors as themselves in a less meta movie. All of the actors have elements of themselves, with only marginal changes (usually combining elements of other famous actors). Jack Black's character has his own personality, but stars in movies of the style popularized by Mike Myers or Eddie Murphy. Arguably, Portnoy is a parody of what Black could end up becoming if he doesn't watch where he's cast. Robert Downey, Jr. is critically acclaimed and gets too into his job.
The main exception (and something often commented upon) is that Ben Stiller mostly plays comedic roles, not Action Heroes. Tom Cruise's cameo Playing Against Type was part of the joke, but has probably never played a character this... in-your-face. With the possible exception of Magnolia...
And Jay Baruchel plays that guy in the movie who no one remembers because he wasn't played by an A-lister — not even mentioned on the posters.
Method Acting: Kirk Lazarus undergoes surgery for a better racial resemblance and doesn't drop from character until he's done with the DVD commentaries
The Millstone: Jeff manages to fuck up the rescue plan (as fucked as it already was) by going straight for the drugs and allowing an open enough distraction for the more genre-savvy guards to reach for their guns.
Mistaken for Badass: The Vietnamese guerrillas are stunned by what they think is a heavily-armed American military team. One of them steps on a landmine? The others make fun of him while using his disembodied head as a prop for their amusement. Under heavy fire? They stand up, chests squared, and spray the forest with assault fire. The Vietnamese planning to ambush them are visibly shocked by how fearless the actors appear by sheer virtue of not actually knowing what's going on.
Alpa Chino is another not-so-subtle parody of the trend of rappers who are increasingly showing up in films as actors, and his Booty Sweat was a direct parody of the various brands of soft drinks pimped out by various mainstream rappers, mostly Nelly's Pimp Juice. A direct reference to R. Kelly's peeing scandal pops up in the Director's Cut: "Hell naw I didn't pee on that girl..."
Les Grossman is based on Stuart Cornfeld, the producer of The Fly, Zoolander and, yes, Tropic Thunder.
No Matter How Much I Beg: One scene has Jeff Portnoy going through withdrawal, and asks to be tied to a tree until he "gets it out of his system." He tells the others not to untie him, no matter how much he begs. Predictably, he does, even going as far as to promise recently outed Alpa Chino a blowjob.
One-Scene Wonder: In-universe. Les Grossman, although just having three scenes in the entire movie, has become one of the most memorable characters. He's even getting his own film.
Only Sane Man: Compared to the others, Kevin is a perfectly normal individual. A bit of a geek maybe, but we, of all people, have no room to criticize.
WOW. The insecurity level on you guys isRIDICULOUS!
Oscar Bait: Kirk's specialty. Tugg tried this with Simple Jack, playing a mentally challenged man, and it didn't go so well. At one point, Kirk explains why to him, citing many of the performances of that sort of role listed at the trope entry. And of course, the film the characters are making is an example of this.
Incidentally, of all the crazy things in the movie, the key controversy about this film was its supposed treatment of the mentally challenged — which may be considered a case of Completely Missing the Point.
That would explain the downright surreal "Special Message From Dreamworks" PSA on the DVD.
Thank the maker that those PSA's don't show up on (my) European DVD's.
Robert Downey, Jr. gets nominated for an Oscar for the role of Lazarus. While parodying the late Heath Ledger who won that same Oscar.
Outrun the Fireball: Subverted. Tugg does this near the end, when the bridge to his helicopter's landing spot is rigged with explosives. He isn't quick enough, but he's alright afterwards.
Painting the Medium: The fake spots for the characters' fake movies (and energy drink) air right after the real trailers do.
Prima Donna Director: Damien Cockburn gets this rap amongst people, but it's really only because his actors and his producer are the real prima donnas constantly breathing down his neck.
Real Trailer, Fake Movie: The movie opens with three very-realistically-designed fake trailers and a commercial to introduce the main characters, and what they usually do:
Scorcher VI: (Ben Stiller) Universal Pictures presents this parody of the typical cash-grabbing action summer blockbuster sequel.
Trailer Announcer: In 2013, when the Earth's rotation came to a halt (???), the world called on the one man who could make a difference. When it happened again, the world called on him once more. And no one saw it coming three more times! Now, the one man who made a difference five times before, is about to make a difference again. Only this time, it's different.
[Speedman is shown standing on an iceberg, and everything in the background is frozen. He has a set of twins on him and he's holding two rifles]
Tugg Speedman: Who left the fridge open?
Trailer Announcer:[voice over] Tugg Speedman. Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown.
Jeff Portnoy as one of his characters: In some countries....[another Portnoy character lets out a giant fart]...it's considered a compliment.
Trailer Announcer:[voice over] ...Letting loose this summer.
Satan's Alley: (Robert Downey Jr.) A Brokeback Mountain spoof about a homosexual priest who falls in love with a younger monk (played by Tobey Maguire).
Trailer Announcer: In a time where to be different was to be condemned...[Lazarus and Tobey Maguire, both dressed as monks, look longingly at each other]...and to be condemned was to die, one man chose to question his God.
Trailer Announcer:[voice over] From Fox Searchlight, five-time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus and MTV Movie Award Best Kiss winner Tobey Maguire; winner of the Beijing Film Festival's coveted Crying Monkey Award, Satan's Alley.
Kirk Lazarus as Father O'Mallie:[voice over whispers] I've been a bad, bad boy, Father....
What Measure Is a Non-Cute? - Tugg kills a snarling animal in the dark — then is horrified to learn it was a Panda, as he's done adorable ads with Pandas for a wildlife conservation group.
Robert Downey, Jr.. as Kirk Lazarus as Lincoln Osiris counts. A black guy acting stereotypically black? Not funny. A white guy acting stereotypically black? Really not funny. A white guy who's dedicated enough to convince himself that he actually is a black guy, to the point that he lectures an actual black guy who uses the n word?Funny as hell.
Right before that, it crossed the line when the real black guy calls the fake black guy "nigga".
Or his reaction:
Alpa: I'm sick of this koala-huggin' nigga... !!
[Kirk slaps Alpa, and then hugs him tight after Alpa tries to punch him]
Retirony: Subverted. The usual "girl back home" discussion promptly spins out into a reiteration of how messed-up the main characters are. None of the leads even HAVE a girl... though one of them has a guy he never talked to...
Kevin: Now, if you recall that whole hullabaloo where Hollywood was split into schisms, some studios backing Blu-ray disc, others backing HD DVD. People thought it would come down to pixel rate or refresh rate, and they're pretty much the same. What it came down to was a combination between gamers and porn. Now, whichever format porno backs is usually the one that becomes the uh most successful. But, you know, Sony, every PlayStation 3 has a Blu-ray in it.
Sequelitis: Parodied In-Universe. Tugg Speedman's Scorcher series. So much so, that the 6th one, Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown, turned the concept of the earth, being a giant fireball in the previous movies, to a frozen wasteland because the previous films had exhausted the previously mentioned concept.
The computer used to identify "Flaming Dragon" is the same one Tony Stark used in the Iron Man film.
The way Tugg Speedman meets his heroic "death scene" in the opening is reminiscent of the posters and Signature Scene of Platoon.
The party early in the film bears a resemblance to the out-of-control Playboy party in Apocalypse Now. Another Apocalypse Now reference is the scene when Kirk tells the others he was a saucier, like Chef does in Apocalypse Now.
The production problems of the in universe Tropic Thunder are based on the infamous production cycle of Apocalypse Now, which also went insanely over budget, over schedule and drove Francis Ford Coppola to mental breakdown and attempted suicide.
Tugg dropping to his knees with his arms out in a crucifixion pose, similar to Willem Dafoe in Platoon.
And then looking ridiculous as he overacts getting shot.
When Kirk is trying to snap Speedman out of his trance and go home, the lighting and shadow on Speedman's face when he says, "I am home" mirror Marlon Brando's final moments as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. The horror!
A really subtle one: The shot of Tugg removing his Simple Jack makeup in the camp is very similar to the shot of Chaplin removing his tramp makeup in the opening of 1992's biopic "Chaplin". Bonus points for Chaplin being another Oscar Bait film which starred Robert Downey, Jr. in his first Oscar nominated role.
When Kirk enters the gang's camp in a wide straw hat and poncho, then opens fire, it is very similar to a Big Damn Heroes moment by Lee Van Cleef's character in the Spaghetti Western Death Rides a Horse.
Satan's Alley, the film that won the Beijing Film Festival's coveted Crying Monkey Award, is a spoof of Brokeback Mountain.
Talkative Loon: Portnoy, as his "vitamins" and "jelly beans" wear off.
Take a Third Option: Pecker, Tugg's agent, is offered the chance to try and save Tugg from terrorists, or to get a G5 Gulfstream jet and "Llllots of money." He takes the Jet and the money — and uses it to save Tugg.
Hats off to the much-beleagured Only Sane Man Kevin Sandusky in particular, though. He devises the plan to rescue Speedman, takes charge whilst Speedman, Lazarus, and Portnoy have their breakdowns, leads the escape from the heroin processing plant, survives being hit by a FUCKING ROCKET-PROPELLED GRENADE whilst driving away in a truck, and is seen at the end of the film dating Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Troubled Production: A massive In-Universe example. The movie proper starts off with the crew of Tropic Thunder wasting 4 millions dollars worth of explosives.
Trouser Space: with Jack Black's pistol, implied to have been up his bum. Played with, as it takes him until the end of the gunfight he's standing in the midst of to actually retrieve it.
True Art Is Angsty: In-universe: Jeff, Alpa, and especially Tugg are each doing this film to get artistic credibility. And everybody's doing it for loads and loads of awards.
What Happened to the Mouse?: The director of the movie dies. Except for the Special Effects guy and Four Leaf panicking, and Lazarus attempting to tell everyone else he's really dead, he's not mentioned again, aside from confirmation that Cody didn't blow him up at the climax.
Also, The original ending had Pecker captured by Flaming Dragon, but test audiences didn't like it, so he just gives Tugg a thumbs up and disappears into the jungle. He's later seen, during the closing credits, flying safely away aboard his brand-new jet.
White-Dwarf Starlet: Tugg is on the verge of becoming this according to Les, who actually uses the term "white dwarf".