There is thunderous laughter from start to finish in what will undoubtedly go down as the most outrageous comedy of the year.
Merging reality and fantasy in a movie within a movie, co-writer/director/star Ben Stiller lampoons the movie industry in ways it hasn't been skewered since The Player and S.O.B. In Tropic Thunder, a film crew sets out to make the biggest (and most clichéd) war movie ever. But after huge budget overruns and a tantrum from the studio head (an unrecognizable Tom Cruise), the hapless English director (Steve Coogan) decides what the film needs is a lot more realism. So, he plunks his all-male cast deep down into the jungles of Southeast Asia for some on-the-spot boot camp training. What starts out as an exercise turns disastrous when they encounter REAL enemy warriors trying to do them in. The motley crew of actors include: Tugg Speedman (Stiller), a fading action hero desperate for a hit; Australian five-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr. ), who is such a method actor he undergoes a unique skin pigmentation transformation to play his character as an African-American; and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), star of a successful farting comedy franchise called The Fatties. Also along for the shoot is intensely serious author John "Four Leaf" Tayback (Nick Nolte), whose book the movie is based on and who may have twisted the real facts for the sake of a movie sale. The bulk of the film finds them fighting for their lives without a script in sight.
Stiller shoots and scores big time, getting superb and hysterically funny performances from a great cast. Ben is back doing what he loves, spoofing convention which, in this case, includes every jungle war movie from Platoon and Apocalypse Now to Rambo. Playing an actor whose series of action-hero flicks have had dwindling returns and whose last flop had him portraying a mentally impaired farm boy, Stiller gets big laughs as his character tries to make a comeback. Robert Downey Jr doesn't just deserve an award for his riotous and audacious acting, he should get a medal for bravery. The star continues his great year with a hilarious turn as the ultimate method actor. He's hilarious as he refuses to speak in anything but his ghetto accent, even when the cameras aren't rolling--exclaiming at one point, "Man, I don't drop character until I've done the DVD commentary!" Black manages to go even further over the top than usual, but his manic act is perfect for the loud and relentless tone set by Stiller. Nolte is perfect casting as a grizzled war vet, and Coogan is very funny as the beleaguered director who takes things one step too far for his safety. Meanwhile, newcomers Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride (having a great year with this, Pineapple Express and Foot Fist Way) and Brandon T. Jackson round out the gang who couldn't shoot straight. The large cast also includes extended cameos from Matthew McConaughey as Speedman's groveling agent, Bill Hader as a film executive and a startling and terrifically funny performance by a balding, hairy-chested Tom Cruise as the screaming, foul mouthed studio head. Special mention also to 12 year-old Brandon Soo Hoo, who is on target as the take-no-crap "leader" of the enemy camp.
Ben Stiller hasn't been behind the camera since his hilarious Zoolander, but he hasn't missed a beat in that department. He manages to make a balls-out action war film with more explosions than any movie in recent memory--obviously paying homage to such classics as Platoon--but doing it all in the service of a smart comic takeoff on the movie business he clearly knows well. Stiller's comic canvas, making fun of the whole "boot camp" mentality, is impressively mounted with flawless CGI special effects, evoking the kind of kick-ass war flick we need to believe this troupe is making. Multiple Oscar winner John Toll's fine cinematography should also get well-deserved credit. With so much extreme mayhem going on, keeping the comedy cooking at top levels is a daunting task Stiller pulls off with aplomb.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.