It's not really a knock to say that nothing in Tropic Thunder
is funnier than its first five minutes, so sly that--especially for people watching in theaters--you don't realize right away they are
the opening minutes of the movie. This outrageous comedy begins with a series of fake previews, each introducing one of the main characters in the film-proper (not that there's anything proper about this film) and each bearing the familiar logo of a different motion picture studio: Universal, DreamWorks SKG, et al. Such playing fast and loose with corporate talismans verges on sacrilege, but it's an index of how much le tout Tinseltown endorses the movie as a demented valentine to itself. The premise is that the cast of a would-be "Son of Rambo" movie shooting in some Southeast Asian jungle get into a real shooting war with drug-smuggling montagnards. Don't ask--though the movie does have an answer--why such highly paid, usually ultra-pampered personnel as superhero Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Mozart of fart comedy Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), hip-hop artist Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and five-time Oscar-winner Kirk Lazarus from Aus-try-leeah (Robert Downey Jr.) should be running through the jungle unattended and very vulnerable. It matters only that the real-life cast has a high time kidding their own profession and flexing their comedic muscles. Bonus points go to Stiller for co-writing the script (with Justin Theroux) and directing, and to Downey, brilliant as a white actor surgically turned black actor for his role and utterly committed to staying in character no matter what ("I don't drop character till I done the DVD commentary").
Be warned: The movie, too, is committed--to being an equal-opportunity offender. Its political incorrectness extends not only to Lazarus's black-like-me posturing but also Speedman's recent, Sean Pennstyle Oscar bid playing a cognitively challenged farmboy--or, in Lazarus's deathless phrase, "going the full retard." Others in the cast include Steve Coogan as a director out of his depth, Nick Nolte as the Viet-vet novelist whose book inspired the film-within-the-film, Matthew McConaughey as Speedman's sun-blissed agent back home, and Tom Cruise--bald, fat-suited, and profane--as an epically repulsive studio head. Two hours running time is a mite excessive, but otherwise, what's not to like? --Richard T. Jameson
Stills from Tropic Thunder (Click for larger image)
In this $109.5 million-grossing movie starring Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr., five pampered actors on the set of a Vietnam War movie are thrust into real-life danger. Bonuses: cast commentary, featurettes, cast profiles, MTV Movie Awards f