Tropic Thunder

Written by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen
Directed by Ben Stiller
Starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Jay Burachel, Brandon T. Jackson and Tom Cruise

Tropic Thunder is the latest blockbuster comedy from Ben Stiller. Packed with stars, the movie follows a group of prima donna actors filming a war epic. There’s Ben Stiller’s character, Speedman, a washed up action star who tried to go serious by playing a mentally handicapped character in his last film. Unfortunately, it was considered the worst film & performance of all time, as Robert Downey Jr.’s character puts it, for going “full retard”. Never go full retard. Downey Jr. plays a renowned Australian eccentric actor (its nice to hear him put on his flawless accent he used in Natural Born Killers), Kirk Lazarus, with previous awards a plenty. Jack Black plays a successful comedian, “Fats”, who gained fame from from a “Nutty Professor” like franchise. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a nerdy Jay Burachel as Kevin and rap mogul sensation Alpa Cino (played by Brandon T. Jackson), the face of popular beverage “Booty Sweat”. All the egos start to get in the way, and first time director Damien has to make a change. With increased pressure from an insane studio exec played by Tom Cruise, Damien turns to Nick Nolte’s character, the writer of the book the film is based on. He suggests to shoot the movie guerilla style by rigging cameras in the jungle and putting the actors in the middle of an authentic war situation. The director agrees, and the fun begins.

The somewhat one-joke premise is silly and although funny at first, a bit stale. Ben Stiller’s directing is a mixed bag. He occasionally shoots it all wrong, treating it like it’s an actual war epic, thus draining the humour out of some short sequences. It simply does not always work. Luckily his script is funny and contain enough surprises throughout to keep it interesting. A big surprise is the unadvertised performance from Tom Cruise.

Cruise is pretty much pegged as a nut case these days and there’s a lot of hating going on (from me included) but his character is a big highlight of Tropic Thunder. I’m not going to claim that Cruise’s career is revived just like that but Ben Stiller may have single-handedly gave him a good head start for doing so. Every scene he is in is magic, yelling with raging lunacy. This begs the question why is Tom Cruise only great when playing a crazy person? Think Magnolia, people. Cruise’s memorable role culminates with, perhaps, the best end credits I have ever seen. Ben Stiller is good as the lead, but doesn’t do anything interesting. Not like Robert Downey Jr., anyways. Downey Jr.’s character, Kirk, actually dyes his skin black to take on the role of an African-American. The ensuing performance is one of the best of the year. He has always been a great actor, but with his parts in Iron Man and Tropic Thunder he should be propelled to the highest pinnacle of fame, and deservedly so. Jack Black is great as always, especially once “Fats” starts going through withdrawal after losing his drugs. It’s very nice to see Jay Burachel in the middle of this star-studded cast. I’ve personally followed his career since he was on “My Hometown” and “Popular Mechanics For Kids”. He was great in the Judd Apatow creation, Undeclared, and more recently in Apatow’s Knocked Up. He is very good here, and doesn’t get too overshadowed by the bigger personalities. The entire supporting cast is superb, especially Bill Hader, who seems to be getting in bit parts in every second comedy released.

This movie is certainly hit and miss, the premise wears thin after a while but the performances continue to excel. There are a few good laughs throughout and Downey Jr. and Cruise are reason enough to see Tropic Thunder. There are a couple better choices out there, but if you’ve seen them already there’s no good excuse to skip this one.

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