Tropic Thunder

 Tropic Thunder on Blu-ray disc

A satire of Hollywood, war movies and Hollywood war movies, Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder is gross and mean spirited - just as it should be.

Stiller wrote, co-stars and directs this lush-looking farce that starts with fake trailers for fake movies made by the co-stars' fake characters. The trailers introduce us to the characters, their histories and their foibles, and sets the scene for the movie in this movie, an Apocalypse Now knockoff Vietnam war flick that brings these stars together to create what's hoped will be an epic.

Alas, it appears the movie will be a disaster, instead. The actors, Chuck Norris-esque action star Tugg Speedman (Stiller), unsubtle funnyman Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), hip-hop "artist" Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson - Al Pacino, get it? That's the kind of comedy here) and five-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr., who is outstanding in this movie) are mostly concerned with saving their careers or, in Lazarus' case, advancing his opportunities to earn more honors by throwing himself so much into his part that he undergoes a pigmentation procedure that makes him appear as the African American of his role. Lazarus is a method actor so committed to his role that he stays in character until he's "done the DVD commentary."

The production begins to fall apart, causing studio executive Les Grossman (Tom Cruise, in heavy makeup) to demand results lest the plug on the production be pulled. So the film's military consultant, John Tayback (Nick Nolte), a Vietnam vet upon whose supposed memoirs the film is based, convinces the director (Steve Coogan) to try a kind of "cinema verite," throwing his cast into the jungle to sink and/or swim and shooting the results via a series of hidden cameras.

That doesn't cure the problems, of course. Not only are these pampered actors not sure what’s real and what’s "Hollywood," but they also come across some real life bad guys who have no idea they're being invaded by a bunch of preening prima donnas.

There are definitely laughs to be had here, though sensitive people may want to find another adventure for their home theaters - Tropic Thunder is gross in places, full of profanity, politically incorrect, and if you hate the idea of a white man playing a black man this may not be your cup of tea - despite Downey Jr. being the best thing about Tropic Thunder.

The Blu-ray presents the "unrated director's cut" which is something like 15 minutes longer than the theatrical version. We didn't see the original, so can't comment about how the new version stacks up, but if you saw the original and want even more political incorrectness, this just may be the disc for you.

The Blu-ray disc looks as beautiful as the Hawaiian colors and locations used for the production. The 1080p widescreen picture is a real testament to the wonders of high definition. We auditioned the movie side by side with the DVD and the BD, and the differences are apparent immediately, even though the DVD also looks really good for standard definition.

But on the Blu-ray, blacks are deep, colors leap out of the screen and the detail is top notch. This could be a reference disc if you don't mind the possibility of annoying some customers during the more graphic or profane sections. Our only quibble is some grain, but it isn't obtrusive.

The audio is presented in  Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround and it's as good as the picture. Dialogue is very discernable, the soundtrack is very dynamic, and the surround channels get excellent use. So does the subwoofer. Overall, it's clean and with excellent "punch", very enveloping and a real pleasure to hear in a decent home theater.

Extras include a couple of commentaries, a half hour "mockumentary" on the making of the movie that's very funny in its own right, nearly an hour worth of featurettes, an alternate ending, deletions and extensions and a sample of the cast's improvisations.

There's also a BD Live component and a short culled from the MTV Movie Awards.

Tropic Thunder, from Paramount Home Entertainment
120 min. 1080p widescreen, Dolby TrueHD
Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr.
written by Justin Theroux & Ben Stiller and Etan Cohen, directed by Ben Stiller

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

Buy the eBook
Ransom for the stars
of Jim Bray's
fantastic Sci-Fi Adventure