Screenwriters: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen
Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr
Running time: 107 mins
Tropic Thunder is a rare beast. A high concept blockbuster comedy packed full of megastars that works perfectly - and packs a hilarious satirical edge too. It also accomplishes a seemingly impossible feat - making alien lizard believer and serial couch jumper Tom Cruise cool.
A series of hilarious spoof trailers kicks everything off in fine style and instantly establishes the story's prime target - the overblown egomania and vanity of modern Hollywood cinema. The pot may be screaming the word "black" at the nearby kettle given Ben Stiller's involvement in front of and behind the cameras (stopping just short of singing the theme tune), but this doesn't detract from 107 minutes of rib-shattering laughter stemming from the 'movie within a movie' plot.
The leads are brilliantly cast, with Stiller perfectly capturing damaged action star Tugg Speedman, Jack Black using his wild eyes to great effect as crack-craving comedy guru Jeff Portnoy, and Brandon T. Jackson wise-cracking as the fizzy pop-plugging Alpa Chino. Best of all though, is Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus - an actor so keen on authenticity he alters his pigmentation to play a black character.
The story takes this deranged quartet and thrusts them together into the Vietnamese jungle for the filming of a Platoon rip-off that is hindered by the mass of egos on set. The feuding stars are soon banished to the jungle for their scenes to be filmed by hidden cameras dotted around the jungle for added authenticity. Unknown to them, the director leaves the project and the real Vietnamese army turns up to repel the foreign invaders on their soil.
Much of the film is built on this simple misunderstanding - the actors believe they are shooting a movie in proper Method style, and are completely oblivious to the fact that the soldiers firing at them are not mere extras with dummy rounds. Plenty of gross-out humour ensues, including Speedman memorably mistaking a real severed head for a prop, and a barrage of one-liners mostly hit the mark, especially when delivered by Downey Jr.
Tropic Thunder definitely shaves the bone while flexing its satirical muscles, most evidently through scenes from Tugg Speedman's 'Simple Jack' movie - his ill-fated bid to win an Oscar through playing a mentally impaired chap. "Never go full retard," a straight-faced Lazurus tells Speedman when reflecting on the disastrous performance of the flick. Yet although the terminology used is unpleasant, it's necessary to mock the real-life attitudes towards such cynical movie projects - and Tropic Thunder does so with flair and no malicious intent.
Tom Cruise's outstanding performance is surprisingly large for a supposed cameo and elevates the film to another level of madcap brilliance. Resembling a spectacle-wearing Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, he portrays embittered film studio mogul Les Grossman - a man nearing the twilight of his life with a hip-hop fetish and ultra-foul temper. Here's a sample insult that he barks out: "My fist is so far up your ****hole that every time you fart it will have to tiptoe past my wedding ring."
Granted, this is hardly refined Shakespearean dialogue, but when delivered by a seething Tom Cruise it's pure poetry. As for his antics during the end credits, it's safe to say he'll never top it for its sheer jaw-dropping nature. Not even if he makes Top Gun 2, dumps Kelly McGillis for the Ice Man and serenades Goose's dripping corpse with a rendition of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling'.
Tropic Thunder's lack of subtlety will definitely alienate some viewers, but if you tapped into similarly zany and manic Stiller comedies Zoolander and There's Something About Mary, then you should be in for near nonstop frenzied laughter. A clever structure, glorious ensemble cast and above all conviction ensure that laughter will be rippling like thunder inside the cinema.
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