First Look: Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder

March 5, 2008

First Look: Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder

Zoolander still makes me chuckle to this day, no matter how many times I've seen it and despite Apple's repetitive use of it in their products. That's why I'm now foaming at the mouth to see Ben Stiller's first directorial attempt since the male-modeling adventure, Tropic Thunder. Entertainment Weekly just published a comprehensive first look at the new comedy and its plain-sight controversy. Without further ado, let's just get down to it and take a look at what could be one of the summer's funniest films.

Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller in Tropic ThunderWhile Zoolander dealt with runways and models, Tropic Thunder deals with jungles and actors - both equally ridiculous and satirical, however. The basic premise is that Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black (pictured to the right) all play high-maintenance actors who are abandoned at the hands of the fictitious film's writer and director (Nick Nolte and Steve Coogan, respectively) when their prissiness becomes too much. The actors -- embracing the stereotypical aloofness with the world around them that folks of this field seem to have -- think being left in a dangerous jungle is actually a scene from the film.

The plot sounds great and full of funny potential. But the best part is the trio, themselves. More shocking than Jack Black with platinum blonde hair and rose-colored glasses is Robert Downey Jr. playing a black guy. That…is…hysterical! Of course, I can't wait to see the public's reaction to such a dicey racial move. Expect the usual suspects to come out in protest. And as Downey rightly states, "If you don't do it right, we're going to hell."

However, Stiller apparently screened the film to an early group of African Americans and says that "people really embrace[d] it. I was trying to push it as far as you can within reality… I had no idea how people would respond to it."

Downey's foray into playing a black character isn't how the film begins. He starts out as the uber-serious white actor, Kirk Lazarus, who has been cast as Sgt. Osiris in a Vietnam War film. Unfortunately, the character for Sgt. Osiris is written as a black guy. So, Lazarus (Downey) does what any good thespian would and dyes his skin black. "At the end of the day, it's always about how well you commit to the character," Downey states. "I dove in with both feet. If I didn't feel it was morally sound, or that it would be easily misinterpreted that I'm just C. Thomas Howell in [Soul Man], I would've stayed home."

In addition to this raucous cast of characters, there apparently there will be a variety of cameos. However, none are rumored so far to be Zoolander alums Owen Wilson or Will Ferrell. Given our recent coverage of Ferrell (Monday Discussion: Is Will Ferrell Burning Out?), that might be a good thing.

Directed by and starring Ben Stiller and written by Etan Cohen ("King of the Hill", Idiocracy) and well-known actor Justin Theroux (who also stars in the film), Tropic Thunder arrives in theaters everywhere this summer on August 15th. Expect to see a trailer within the next few weeks.

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  • Billy
    this...looks...AWESOME I can't wait to hear more, and Im right with you...I usually stop what I'm doing when Zoolander comes on tv =)
  • do not want.
  • Alexander
    awesome, Robert Downey Jr. as a black sounds badass
  • Hahahahaha, sounds hilarious! I loved Zoolander and Stiller is hilarious.
  • Curtis
    Loved Zoolander and love Ben Stiller, great cast and sounds like it could be hilarious, just the picture up there alone made me laugh. Cannot wait!!!!
  • CHEEKYmonkey
    Does anyone think that Jack Black looks like philip seymour hoffman in the picture
  • Haha, leave to these guys to come up with something stupid funny and pull it off... I hope to work with these dudes of comedy one day as an actor... way to go Ben, Jack and Robert!
  • Cheeky - I think Black looks like Hoffman, Downey Jr. looks like a darker Benicio del Toro, and Stiller looks like an even stupider Ben Stiller... :)
  • Can't wait
    Why is a white guy playing a black guy contraversial? Didn't the Wayans play white women? Where were people then?
  • harrison
    haha sounds great, ya i thought it was stiller, hoffman and tim meadows from the ladies man
  • mrsatan
    I wanna see robert downey as a black guy, I think it could be good. He has the charisma about him to pull it off, maybe he has some inner black man.
  • captiv
    It's seems like ben to not come up with something original and just rip off "the three amigos"
  • Joel
    "Why is a white guy playing a black guy contraversial? Didn't the Wayans play white women? Where were people then?" Hollywood doesn't have a history of black actors in white-face portraying all the worst stereotypical characteristics of white women. On the other hand, there is a very offensive portion of history where actors in black-face make-up paraded around portraying blacks as near retarded watermelon eating stooges good for nothing but crude comments to white woman, stealing, and sleeping when they were supposed to be working. Taking that history into consideration, any black person is well within their rights to be concerned about this topic. From the description of the part, and what RDjr has said about the topic, I think it may not be an issue here, but it definitely is something that (justifiably) puts some people on edge. I just hope that people see it before making up their minds, and that it comes across on screen the way RDjr says it is intended.
  • Dan
    Sounds like a ripoff of Three Amigos with Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short
  • harrison
    ben didnt write it captiv, etan cohen of king of the hill(which i think is possibly the worst show on television) and some other guy wrote it, but it does have that 3 amigos feel, but think the actors can make this somethin to look forward to
  • Pimpslapstick
    Looks like it's gonna be funny as hell, but I gotta admit I'm a bit uncomfortable with RDjr playing a black character, that shit just too touchy for me. I hope too god he pulls it off and doesn't make a mockery of the role and god forbid this "New Blackface" schtick does becomes a fad, because if it does and next year it's 'Gary Busey as MLK in the comedy of the year' Hollywood better expect a huge backlash.
  • I wish people would stop saying RDJr is "playing a black man" in this; he's not. He's playing a white guy playing a black man. There is a very big difference. The former is offensive, the latter is satire. That said, I think this looks pretty good so far. Yeah, the premise is totally Three Amigos in South America, but whatever. It will really come down to the script (and the improv): Etan Cohen's Idiocracy was a huge mess, but I get the feeling that was more because of studio meddling than the script. Justin Theroux's involvement is interesting. His film Dedication (with Billy Crudup and Mandy Moore) was surprisingly enjoyable. Very smart and funny.




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