— 14 August 2023

You Couldn’t Make ‘Tropic Thunder’ Today (Which Is What Makes It Brilliant)

— 14 August 2023
Garry Lu
Garry Lu

We live in a world that’s drastically different to the one we knew back in 2008. And yet, despite how the film may have aged under the intense scrutiny of progressive politics, Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder remains one of the greatest comedy films to ever grace screens.

Now before you break out the torches and sharpen those pitchforks: hear me out.

Nobody is claiming that blackface à la method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr) and “going full retard” vis-à-vis Tugg Speedman’s (Stiller) Simple Jack — hell, just using the term “retard” — is remotely acceptable from a modern perspective.

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On that note, let’s not even look too deeply into Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) either — the scene-stealing producer with an explosive temper more than likely inspired by a certain real-life counterpart who’s currently facing 40 years in prison.

But as in many facets of everyday life, we need to take a step back and consider the context. The proper context, as Stiller & Co had intended. Not the one we’ve chosen to manufacture.

None of this was ever about belittling the African-American community nor the differently abled. Tropic Thunder‘s grand, overarching (and deliciously meta) punchline has always been about the self-indulgence and self-importance of Hollywood.

I mean for God’s sake: Matthew McConaughey’s Rick “The Pecker” Peck, devoted agent to Stiller’s Tugg Speedman, ventures into what is practically an active conflict zone to fulfil his star client’s contractual demand for a bloody TiVo; this very same TiVo saving the cast from an RPG. Satire doesn’t get any more obvious than that.

The very basis of the story itself, which Ben Stiller co-wrote alongside Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, is essentially a spoof of Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (which Stiller also worked on), Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, its companion documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse — the latter two also being movies you couldn’t possibly make in present day — as well as the war epic genre as a whole.

To conveniently ignore that crucial detail in order to safeguard oneself from perceived offense would be as nonsensical as censoring the racism highlighted in classic works of literature like To Kill A Mockingbird.

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It doesn’t actually solve anything. The issues at hand still exist in real life — regardless of whether they’ve been carefully redacted from the materials you consume. How you choose to address said issues marks the difference between legitimate forward progress and sweeping things under the rug.

Like we said earlier, this is the sort of film that would never be greenlit for production today. Not just because of the red-hot elements; but for the egregious crime of being surprisingly nuanced. That, to me, is the most tragic realisation about the current landscape — our surrendering to feeling too much and thinking too little.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of Tropic Thunder — and to relive the glory days of mainstream comedy flicks — you can stream the R-rated all-star affair via Stan and Binge.

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Garry Lu
After stretching his legs with companies such as The Motley Fool and the odd marketing agency, Garry joined Boss Hunting in 2019 as a fully-fledged Content Specialist. In 2021, he was promoted to News Editor. Garry proudly retains a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black bruises from Muay Thai, as well as a black belt in all things pop culture. Drop him a line at [email protected]


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