The Set of 400: #29 – My Favorite TiVo Contract Clause

Today! Because the one man who made a difference five times before is about to make a difference again. Only this time, it’s different –

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Directed by Ben Stiller

Starring Ben Stiller (x2), Robert Downey Jr. (x10), Jack Black (x7), Jay Baruchel (x2), Brandon T. Jackson, Tom Cruise (x5), Nick Nolte (x4), Steve Coogan (x2), Matthew McConaughey (x2), Danny McBride, Bill Hader (x3), Brandon Soo Hoo, Reggie Lee, Maria Menounos, Christine Taylor, Tyra Banks, Tobey Maguire (x5), Yvette Nicole Brown, Jennifer Love Hewitt (x2), Jon Voight (x3), Lance Bass

Hang on a minute – a movie about movies and it was in the epic summer of 2008? There was no way Tropic Thunder wasn’t making this list, right? Maybe it seems a touch high to you? Are people still talking about this film a dozen years on? I think it’s safe to say that even though this movie isn’t all that old, it already feels like something that wouldn’t be made today. I mean, it’s got the universal comedic concept of egomaniac actors and how completely out of touch with reality they can be, but it also has legitimate black face throughout the movie, even if RDJ got nominated for an Oscar in the role. Could this get made right now, given the changes in the world over the past decade? I’d say maybe, but only a 50/50 chance.

Because the movie really does work hard to handle this issue as being actor ridiculousness, and not even remotely a cool thing to do. Brandon T. Jackson’s rapper-actor Alpa Chino is there half the time to keep Downey’s Kirk Lazarus in check, even as he effectively steals the movie. And while this character seems to popularly be the movie’s lasting cultural impact, it is stuffed with tremendous comedic turns – from Matthew McConaughey’s loopy agent Rick Peck to Danny McBride’s special effects expert Cody to Steve Coogan’s Brit director Damien Cockburn. Stiller’s work as over-the-top action hero Tugg Speedman is spot-on, but a touch thankless, as the nominal lead more or less swallowed in the plot, by being the de facto damsel in distress. Jack Black’s Jeff Portnoy gets largely overlooked, which I think is really unfair, as his typically hyper-invested work as this wacky, drug-addled Z-grade comedian delivers a bunch of great moments. And none of this is to ignore the literally amazing work of Tom Cruise, unrecognizably transformed into the vulgar uber-producer Les Grossman – by far the funniest role Cruise has ever played.

His end credits dance sequence is incredible

Again, summer 2008 was big for me – moving to Chicago and finally living within walking distance of a movie theater – so its representation on this list is pretty skewed, I recognize. Nonetheless, Tropic Thunder had one of the funniest trailers I’d ever seen, and so I was very amped up to watch this movie, especially after Downey hit it big with Iron Man. Thank God this movie came together when it did, otherwise it is unlikely RDJ would’ve gotten away from his superhero duties long enough to make it. Stiller hasn’t directed a ton of films over all, and only the decent Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the less-than-okay Zoolander sequel since ’08, which is a shame. Between Reality Bites, the first Zoolander, and this, he clearly should’ve done more behind the camera work. I’ll admit I haven’t seen his miniseries Escape at Dannemora but it had solid reviews. Aren’t we due a Tropic Thunder 2, or at least the long rumored Les Grossman spin-off film? Come on!

I still contend that the first half of this movie is as good a comedy as has been made in the last twenty years, only flagging a bit once it moves into the more action-y second half. Even then, there are plenty of gags, and the finale pays off on both fronts pretty well. I find TT to be an endlessly watchable movie, and the dazzlingly funny group of characters make every scene enjoyable. Even inside this, where you could pick names out of a hat for an MVP, I’ve gotta go with Brandon Soo Hoo’s terrific Flaming Dragon warlord for the honor.

One of the great child performances ever

Tony Stark joins Nick Fury as the only Ten-Timers in the club so far, following Downey’s appearances in #397 Wonder Boys, #259 Soapdish, #215 Bowfinger, #383 Sherlock Holmes, #224 The Avengers, #38 Iron Man, #265 Iron Man 3, #242 Chaplin, and #278 Zodiac, while this marks a far advanced spot for Cruise and Maguire (Five-Timers!) and Jack Black (to the Sevens!).

I almost forgot about Baruchel’s great work as the nerdy Sandusky! Tell him what time it is!

Coming Monday! See you in the next life, Jack –

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