War is hell, and actors are idiots. These two ideas form the basis of Tropic Thunder, a spoof of both action movies and certain types of actors.
The movie Tropic Thunder revolves around the misadventures of making the the in-film war movie Tropic Thunder in Vietnam -- and things are a wreck. Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is an action star who did six sequels to his hit movie Scorcher and wants this movie to resurrect his career. Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) is an Oscar Award-winning Australian method actor who gets what is essentially advanced blackface to play an African-American. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is a comic actor famous for playing far farters -- and who's heavily addicted to drugs. Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) is a young African-American rapper whose main concern is promoting the energy drink Booty Sweat. And Kevin (Jay Baruchel) is the fairly unknown actor who's the most stable of the cast.
The movie is going horribly. Tugg is insecure, Kirk is condescending, and the director Damien (Steve Coogan, star of the upcoming Hamlet 2) gets no respect from anyone. The writer of the real-life story behind Tropic Thunder, Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), has a plan: Drop the stars in the middle of the jungle, away from their cell phones and personal assistants, and make them work for the movie. Of course, the actors are barely in the jungle when they wind up isolated and targeted by Asian drug lords as DEA agents -- and the actors think it's all part of their movie.
Writer-director Ben Stiller said he got the idea for Tropic Thunder from actors who had to spend a week or two in boot camp before doing war films and complaining how incredibly hard it was. Unfortunately, this idea doesn't translate to consistent laughs through this movie. There are a couple of laughs -- notably as Kirk Lazarus tries to sound profound and makes no sense -- but there are as many jokes that flop as those that work. There is a shameless, open attempt at being politically incorrect -- some groups are protesting a discussion on how best to play a retard -- but it's not over the top enough to be truly awful and hysterical.
What impressed me in Tropic Thunder is the supporting cast. The highlight of the movie is easily Tom Cruise, who plays studio exec Les Grossman as a greedy opportunist who curses constantly and often busts a move. Matthew McConaughey has fun as Tugg's agent Rick "Pecker" Peck, whose biggest concern in life seem to be making sure his client has TiVo. Steve Coogan isn't in the movie for too long, but he adds a manic touch as the hapless director.
I'm tempted to recommend Tropic Thunder just so people see Tom Cruise's most hysterical role in years, but the movie is just too uneven. There are plenty of chuckles, and even a few big laughs, but this movie is more sporadically amusing that consistently funny.
Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch