Coming home: ‘Tropic Thunder’ to debut on Kaua‘i

Inhabitants of one of the greenest places on Earth are about to find out what their home looks like on the silver screen as Kaua‘i braces for tonight’s local premiere of “Tropic Thunder,” an action-comedy blockbuster that was filmed largely on-island during the summer and fall of 2007.

Art Umezu, Film Commissioner for the Office of Economic Development, said in a Tuesday interview that an opening ceremony and blessing would commence at Kukui Grove Cinemas at 7:30 p.m., followed by pupus and tributes to the late mayor Bryan Baptiste and teacher David Conrad.

“It’s not going to be like Hollywood,” Umezu said. “It will be a little more real and solemn.”

At 8:30 p.m., the film will be screened for many of those who helped make it possible.

“Twelve months ago, we were at the peak of production,” said Umezu, who expects all 259 seats to be filled. “People are anxious to see it. You never know what’s going to be in it until you see it.”

Umezu said that 500 locals showed up for the first casting call looking for extras for the film, and 400 more came for the second one.

“Every Tom, Dick and Harry and their auntie and uncle was involved in production,” he said.

According to Umezu, some 90 percent of the film was shot at six main locations across the island, including near Lihu‘e’s Grove Farm, at Kaua‘i Sands, and in Hanama‘ulu and Wainiha.

The film was directed by and stars part-time North Shore resident Ben Stiller, who told Umezu that he had been writing it for around 15 years. He and location scouts began considering Kaua‘i as the location a few years ago, and spent some 11 months on-island preparing and ultimately filming, according to Umezu.

Umezu estimated the impact on the local economy at $64 million in expenditures such as hotels, rental cars, restaurants and groceries.

“Film is an opportunity to fill in some of the gaps caused by the lack of visitors,” said Beth Tokioka, director of the Office of Economic Development. “It not only fills hotel rooms, but it helps small businesses across the spectrum.

“Business like that can be attracted using ‘Tropic Thunder’ as a success story.”

“Tropic Thunder,” which opened nationwide yesterday, will be available for public viewing at Kukui Grove Cinemas tomorrow.

Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr. star alongside Stiller, and a host of other celebrities — Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Tyra Banks, Jon Voight, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jason Bateman — reportedly make cameo appearances.

The R-rated action-comedy is said to be a movie-within-a-movie, where the real actors portray actors starring in a big-budget war film that suddenly turns all too real. Kaua‘i’s lush setting is said to stand in for Southeast Asia.

“Tropic Thunder” has received mostly positive reviews, garnering an 82 percent rating on Rottentomatoes.com, which rounds up the opinions of published movie reviewers.

A spokesperson for Stiller did not return phone and email messages as of press time.

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