Tropic Thunder

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
You never go full retard.

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 Acting to extremes -- 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 extremely Genre Savvy characters poke fun at them.

A spinoff focusing on the Les Grossman character has been announced. Little else is known about it.

Tropes used in Tropic Thunder include:
  • A-Team Firing: The actors' guns are all armed with blanks.
  • Advertised Extra: Although he's one of the top three billed leads, Black's character takes a backseat in the movie.
  • Affably Evil: There was that guy who offered Tugg tea after he was captured. He was surprised and offended when Tugg kicked him.
  • Affectionate Parody: More cutting than most, but not really a Deconstruction either. It's self-parody for some of the (real) cast members who are infamous for behavior akin to that of the characters.
    • For example, Kirk revealing he's a "lead farmer" has him blasting away in a manner suspiciously like Iron Man revealing the flamethrowers...
    • 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.
    • 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.
      • MY ASS!!!
  • 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.
  • All There in the Manual: The aforementioned in-universe documentaries.
  • 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.
  • Ass Shove: Portnoy's handgun.
    • YEAH!
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Les Grossman uses some wicked threats to intimidate people. Boy, does he ever.
  • 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.
  • Beauty Inversion: Tom Cruise as Grossman.
  • Becoming the Mask: Lazarus doesn't break character "until the DVD Commentary is recorded!"
    • True to his word, Robert Downey Jr. does the film's DVD commentary in character as Kirk Lazarus.
      • 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."
  • 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.
  • Beyond the Impossible: The script calls for Tran's tattoo to be of "flaming dragon raping a monkey, raping a skull, raping a rat." Sadly replaced with a generic skull in the film.
  • Big No: Several times.
  • 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.
  • Brick Joke: Tobey Maguire's role in Satan's Alley gets him nominated for an Oscar.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Tugg mocking Cockburn, still under the impression that Cockburn isn't decapitated.
    • Alpa throws on an Australian accent to mock Lazarus.
  • The Cameo: So many.
  • Celebrity Survivor: A variation; instead of a post-apocalyptic world, it's the cartel-run jungles of Southeast Asia where a bunch of prima-donna actors are dumped by their pissed-off director.
  • Chased by Angry Natives: Tugg has to Outrun the Fireball when the bridge is blown trying to stop the Angry Natives. Now that's Troperiffic.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The TiVo.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: "I AM TRAN! YOU. Are DEA scum."
  • 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!

Tyra Banks: Someone close to you said "One more flop and it's over."
Speedman: Someone said they were close to me?

"They don't like me, they just like laughing at my farts!

  • Dyeing for Your Art: Parodied with Kirk having his skin dyed to become a sassy black sergeant. Alpa Chino, a real black man, is not amused.
  • Earth-Shattering Poster: Scorcher posters.
  • Enfante Terrible: The leader of the drug dealers.
  • 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!"), 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.
  • The Film of the Book: The movie being shot. Speaking of...

Sandusky: You guys... did read the book, right?
Osiris:: I don't read the script, the script reads me!

Lazarus: "I don't read script. Script reads me."

Sandusky: "What the hell does that even mean?"

  • I Choose to Stay: Subverted.
  • 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.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Sure, the heroes use blanks, but thankfully, the bad guys can't shoot straight either. Aside from Tran and his RPG.
  • Improbable Age: Tran, who is the head of a massive drug compound despite being ten years old. Bizarrely, this is an example of Truth in Television, since he is based (cigars and all) on a pair of twin guerilla leaders who first took command when they were nine.
  • 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.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Parodied with Simple Jack and lampshaded and mocked with Lazarus' "Full Retard" speech.
  • Intro Dump: It is literally the second scene in the film.
  • Invisible to Gaydar: Alpa Chino.
  • 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 lies!!"
  • Jaywalking Arson And Murder: The TiVo.

Rick Peck: "You don't need to explain to me why you need TiVo... or clean water. Clean sheets. Food. Shelter."

  • Jerkass: The EXTREMELY foul-mouthed Les Grossman.
  • Karma Houdini: Les Grossman basically attempts to murder Speedman, but suffers zero consequences as a result. Hell, he gets to be the focus of the sequel!
  • Kayfabe Music: Alpa Chino is a rapper who is overly heterosexual in his music and videos, but is secretly gay.
  • Killer Rabbit: Half Squat, Tugg's adopted son.
    • Don't forget the cute... cuddly... vicious panda.
  • Land Mine Goes Click: ...and director goes boom.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Is it Kirk Lazarus playing the dude disguised as another dude (Kirk Lazarus as Lincoln Osiris as lead-farming Indochinese infiltrator) or Robert Downey, Jr. (as all of the above)?
    • "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.
  • Mad Bomber: Cody, who even Four Leaf thinks is insane. He nearly blinded Jamie Lee Curtis on Freaky Friday.
  • 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.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: In-universe -- 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Grossman.
  • 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: In-universe -- Kirk Lazarus undergoes surgery for a better racial resemblance and doesn't drop from character until he's done with the DVD commentaries.
  • Mind Screw: Kirk trying to get Speedmann out of his Heroic BSOD promptly backfires.

Tugg: 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?

Drug Dealer, crawling towards real gun: "Scarface... Dog Day Afternoon... Real Al Pacino!"
Alpa: "No, that's a totally different dude -- oh shit!!"

  • Nemean Skinning: The panda.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: This movie is practically the Bible of this trope.
    • Jeff Portnoy is a fairly transparent parody of Eddie Murphy (particularly in films like The Nutty Professor and Norbit), with generous helpings of Chris Farley's fatness and drug problems.
    • Kirk Lazarus is a similarly transparent parody of Heath Ledger (his appearance in Satan's Alley all but confirms this), mixed with Daniel Day-Lewis' method acting, the tabloid antics of Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, and Colin Farrell, and Christian Bale's combination of the two (Kirk Lazarus was originally supposed to be Irish/British).
    • Tugg Speedman is a spoof of a young Sylvester Stallone that has a small frustrated parallel with Tom Hanks, who entered in Forrest Gump (Simple Jack) and Saving Private Ryan (Tropic Thunder).
    • Alpa Chino is another not-so-subtle parody of the trend of rappers who are increasingly showing up in films as actors. 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.
  • Noodle Incident: Cody lost a finger during production of Driving Miss Daisy and he almost blinded Jamie Lee-Curtis while making Freaky Friday.
    • The news segments on each of the actors suggest they've done some... odd things... in the past.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Mocked at the end, with multiple characters reappearing and getting spotted by someone already in the chopper who runs back to help them just as they were about to take off.
  • Obfuscating Disability: "You've got hands?"
    • "Yes."
  • One-Scene Wonder: 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.
  • One-Woman Wail: Constantly parodied throughout the soundtrack.
  • 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 is RIDICULOUS!

  • 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 Fourth Wall: The fake spots for the characters' fake movies (and energy drink) air right after the real trailers do.
  • Prima Donna Director: Damien Cockburn. Debatable, since he only flies into a tantrum after the actors fuck up. Again.
  • Product Placement: There's less in the movie being made than the one we're watching.
  • Real Trailer, Fake Movie: The movie opens with three fake trailers and a commercial to introduce the main characters, and what they usually do:

Speedman: Here We Go Again... Again.

    • The Fatties Fart 2: (Jack Black) A comedy ala The Nutty Professor about a family of farting fat people all played by the same actor.
    • Satan's Alley: (Robert Downey Jr.) A Brokeback Mountain spoof about a homosexual priest who falls in love with a younger monk.
    • The opener starts with a... suggestive ad for the products Alpa Chino pushes throughout the movie.
      • As it happens, Booty Sweat is a real energy drink sold online. It had been temporarily available at theaters, too.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The whole movie - a clear case where toning it down would have actually made it much more offensive than it is. Among the tropes spoofed/subverted in this way:
    • Children Are Innocent: The leader of the drug cartel is a preteen, and the tot Tugg "adopts" at one point turns out to be quite vicious as well.
    • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Tons. Kevin's character's evisceration in the prologue is a highlight.
    • Gory Discretion Shot: None of that here.
    • 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]
Kirk: [with tears in his eyes] For four-hundred years... that word has kept our people down...
Alpa: [in total disbelief] ...What the fuck... ??

Portnoy: "How the hell do you know Chinese?"
Lazarus: "Land of Silk and Money with Gong Li. Second Globe, third Oscar. Prepped for that one by working in a Beijing textile factory for 8 months."

    • ...Which turns into gibberish, much to the consternation of the guards.
  • 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.
  • Take Our Word for It: Simple Jack is apparently "one of the worst movies ever made", but we only see a few scenes of it. It does look pretty bad though...
    • Well, to give the man credit, he has eased up on the retard a bit.
  • Talkative Loon: Portnoy, as his "vitamins" and "jelly beans" wear off.
  • Took a Level in Badass: After much idiocy, tears, sadness, and patheticness, all of the cast does this.
    • Hats off to the much-beleaguered 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.
  • 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.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery
  • Unfortunate Implications: In-Universe: Lazarus acting as a black man irritates the Hell out of actually black Alpa Chino, who must deal with his antics of stereotypical blackness.

"YOU'RE AUSTRALIAN! BE AUSTRALIAN! 'SCUSE ME, Kangaroo Jack!" -stereotypically hops off like a kangaroo-

Kirk: (To Tugg) "What do you mean, you people?"
Alpa: (To Kirk) "What do you mean, you people?"
Kirk: (Still to Tugg) "Huh!?"