Ben Stiller’s sequel to his own 2001 cult hit, Zoolander, opens this Friday, and it is not good. There are a few humorous beats – and an inexplicable MVP in Kiefer Sutherland – but the jokes and gags are a mix of the recycled and the unfunny. Skipping it in theaters and staying home to re-watch The Cable Guy is my advice to those of you considering seeing it.
His last great comedy as director was 2008’s Tropic Thunder, and I was happy to realize that the director’s cut DVD features two commentaries. Both feature Stiller, but only one also includes Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. with the latter staying in character through the majority of the commentary track.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Tropic Thunder cast commentary.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
Commentator: Ben Stiller (director/co-writer/actor), Jack Black (actor), Robert Downey Jr. (actor)
1. Black arrived forty-five minutes late for the commentary recording, but Stiller confirms he was always on time during the actual film production.
2. “Tobey Maguire came in and did us a huge favor,” says Stiller, as “he was a last minute replacement.” He says it worked out better though as Maguire was a bigger get than who they had originally planned.
3. Black asks what the others are wearing to the film’s premiere and says that he has “something special cooking up.” Stiller points out that Black usually wears a tee-shirt and jeans, and Downey adds “That Kung Fu Panda man, that shit you was wearing abroad? It was like you just woke up in an alley or something.”
(Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
4. They originally tested Jay Baruchel’s exposed innards with real animal guts, but it looked too realistic so they went “more cartooney.”
5. “Peek-a-boo! I see you!” was improvised by Downey. He also does his own stunt somersault immediately after.
6. The opening action sequence took up the first three weeks of production.
7. Stiller loves how seriously Matthew McConaughey took his character of Rick Peck. “He came at me with all these questions, like real questions about Rick Peck and where he was coming from and his relationship, and fought for his character throughout the whole process.”
8. Nick Nolte’s character was originally introduced with him scraping his hook down the window “Quint-style.” Stiller felt like it was a little “too self conscious” though and scrapped it.
9. Downey’s promise to himself – or, Osisris’ promise that he makes in the film – was that he doesn’t “drop character till I done a DVD commentary.” He commits to it here and is a man of his word.
10. Black asks the others if they’ve ever heard the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon commentary track, but before he can get to his point he’s interrupted by Downey. “Hold on man. You show up here tardy, and now you’re talking about another fucking commentary?”
11. Black has In-N-Out delivered during the commentary and shares his fries with Downey. “God bless the 4×4,” says Black. “It’s four patties of meat.” Stiller seems legitimately shocked at the burger saying “Oh my god. That is crazy. That is literally insane.”
12. Black improvised the “I fucking hate movies” line, and when Stiller asks him where it came from he replies “Maybe it came from some times I do hate movies.”
13. Baruchel had been talking about Blu-ray and HD-DVD between takes so they let him improvise on the topic during the montage that sees Tugg set off on his own. “Jay Baruchel at the time of this improv was kind of predicting that HD was going to win the race,” says Black, “and he couldn’t have been wronger.”
14. They collectively wonder if there’s ever been a movie set entirely in the rain and settle upon three likely possibilities – Hard Rain, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and Black Rain.
15. The animal attack scene was accomplished via an animatronic head and a little person in a bear suit.
16. Black looked for footage of people going through withdrawal but couldn’t really find much. “What I ended up doing,” he says, “I just watched a bunch of movies of people going through stuff. I watched your movie. I watched Permanent Midnight. I watched Drugstore Cowboy.” He ultimately decided to just imagine what it would look like.
17. They digitally removed excess oatmeal vomit from Black’s mouth. It was just too gross.
18. Jeff Portnoy’s (Black) suggestion that they rescue Tugg by catapulting themselves into the camp was actually the original third act. “It was so stupid,” says Stiller.
19. “This moment,” says Stiller, “I wasn’t really expecting even when we shot it.” He’s referring to Tom Cruise’s shift into dance moves after Les Grossman (Cruise) explains to Peck how they’re going to make an insurance claim against Tugg’s death. “I don’t think anybody was really expecting that he was going to go to that place.”
20. Black did not get along well with the water buffalo. Downey, by contrast, was something of “an animal whisperer.”
21. Downey finally drops the Osiris voice as the character does the same onscreen, but it’s clear he’s not keen on saying goodbye. “This is Lincoln Osiris signing off forever now. Thank you people. Thanks for letting me float with you. I love you ladies and gentlemen. Man, it’s hard to let go.” He then pauses briefly… and begins speaking in Kirk Lazarus’ Australian accent.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- Black: “It was kind of redundant for me putting on a fat suit on top of my already fat body to make me look 25 lbs heavier.”
- Downey: “Man, I was trying to ride Tobey when we were shooting this thing. He wasn’t having none of it.”
- Stiller: “I’m gonna do one of those commentaries where I just say what’s happening on the screen.”
- Downey: “The fucking dumb-ass limey. Man that’s a crinkly-faced mother fucker right there. Stevie Coogan, little Stevie Coogan. That fucking pussy that’s what he is. I still think he’s a pussy. I’m talking about in real life.”
- Downey: “Remember Nick Nolte falling over in the chair?”
- Downey: “When Jack’s eating and I take a nap you can just run your fucking mouth for like twenty minutes if you want.”
- Stiller: “I love that we’ve actually accepted Robert in this voice for the whole commentary, and again I find myself strangely liking this guy more than regular Robert.”
- Black: “Look at my dick!”
The trio make for a fun commentary, but Downey’s commitment to his character bit sees him stepping all over Stiller and Black on multiple occasions. Both of them start thoughts only to be interrupted by one of Osiris’ observations or outbursts. They all make jokes at each others’ expense – although Black and his Kung Fu Panda franchise seem to get the brunt of them – but it’s clear they’re friends who respect each others’ talents. Listeners looking for more informative thoughts should check out Stiller’s other commentary, but if it’s laughs you’re after this cast track has more to offer. Both make for better uses of your time than a screening of Zoolander 2.