Kevin's Review: Tropic Thunder - 80% Chance for Torrential Laughter
by Kevin Powers
August 12, 2008
When you hit an amusement park, you can expect to encounter a wide range of rides, each with its own story and unique experience. There's the old-fashioned mine ride, alongside the flashy adventure coaster, set next to the dark and creepy slow-goer. Some amusements are more fun than others, but the variety and excitement usually makes for a good time. That's pretty much how Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder goes. With an insane array of off-beat and cleverly crafted Hollywood archetypes, Tropic Thunder is one of the funniest outings of the summer. Sure, there is some downtime between rides, but any feeling of 'waiting around' is fleeting. The ultimate attraction proves to be the king of the season, Robert Downey Jr., whose performance is worth the price of admission alone.
If you haven't heard, Downey, bucking traditional racial no-nos, plays a black guy in the film named Sgt. Osiris. Well, actually, Downey plays Australian award-winning actor Kirk Lazarus, who's the ultimate method actor, having undergone a skin tinting procedure to fully immerse himself in the role. Lazarus, along with big-budget action lead Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), portly and bawdy comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and young rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon Jackson), are the lead actors in a Vietnam War film that aims to be the biggest, most expensive war movie in history. With the clashing of egos and the film derailing, director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) and military consultant "Four Leaf" Tayback (Nick Nolte) hatch a plan to drop the pampered actors into true hostile territory and film the movie guerrilla style. That's the basic premise of what happens over the two-hour film, but that's not what's most interesting. The roster of characters is what makes Tropic Thunder one of the most compelling comedies this year.
While Stiller, Black and others have their own thought-out, chuckling backstories, a few characters stand out alongside Downey's - namely up-and-comer Danny McBride as the pyrotechnician, Cody, and a career-altering cameo by Tom Cruise as a big-headed and big-handed (literally) executive type. For McBride, though his role is small by all accounts, his ass-kicking, no-nonsense, red-neck persona has an effortless humility to it that is so fresh it makes Stiller and Black's schtick seem stale. (McBride is actually battling himself this month, since he also appears in the recently released Pineapple Express). And for someone who doesn't particularly care for Cruise as of late, I have to admit that while the Hollywood heavyweight packed on some fictional pounds he seemed to completely shed the ego in the role of Les Grossman. I won't give much away as to his performance, but believe me I say that you'll walk away from Tropic Thunder with a new perspective on the guy.
Downey stole the show, however. It seems almost fruitless to describe the veteran's performance because he simply was the character(s). If any caucasian guy can pull off portraying a black man of the '70s (in an un-politically correct comedy, no less) and not raise the ire of Al Sharpton, he deserves a damn medal. Without Downey's contribution, the film clearly wouldn't have near as much force. As it stands, Tropic Thunder is a storm of laughter that pours and parts with the creative personalities Stiller and fellow writer Justin Theroux bring to the screen. The "weather" certainly lets up at times, but there's little hope of keeping dry.