Tropic Thunder is more like a tropic blunder, as Sarah Silverman would say. I'm sorry, but this is an awful movie. The film gets a few good laughs and they're in the very beginning, really before the movie even starts. The rest is just an unfunny mess.
Five actors get lost in a jungle near a camp where an Asian gang is running a drug farm. The five actors are tricked into thinking that they're filming a movie out there and the armed drug dealers trying to kill them are actors in on the stunts.
Ben Stiller (There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents) writes, produces, directs, and stars in this comedy in which he plays an big-time actor down on his luck, in terms of being in a recent string of bad movies. It's not a real stretch for him. Stiller plays Tug Speedman, an actor who has the looks, the prestige and the passionate dedication to be Tom Cruise. Yet he's not Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise is in this movie, and even he's no Tom Cruise. He should have been, however. It would have made this film funnier.
Tom Cruise should have been playing the main character here. Stiller and Cruise share a physical resemblance. Cruise's age wouldn't have realistically worked, but that probably would have made me laugh more than I did, which was hardly ever.
Don't get me wrong. I like Stiller. I think he's very funny. I think he's very smart, very insightful, and actually very good-looking. If any comedian, or comedic actor, could be convincing as a leading man, or as a faux action star, it's Stiller.
In the film, Stiller's character Tug Speedman does a film in which he plays a mentally challenged man-boy named Jack. Tug goes a little overboard with his acting in it. As his co-star in his latest film, Lazarus, says, he went "full retard." Jack and the use of the word "retard" has many activists protesting the movie in real life.
The indictment is more on Tug's acting and poor choices, and less on people with mental challenges. Yet, after Stiller's performance in comedies like Zoolander (2001), it can't be something that anyone should be surprised by. If anything, I expected a mentally challenged person to be treated this way. Ultimately, that's what makes it not funny.
Yet, if Stiller had given the role to Cruise and have him playing the actor playing the awfully played retarded person, where would it have gone? I think the half the audience would have shuttered and the other half would have laughed themselves into the hospital.
Cruise instead plays the overweight, balding, hairy-chested, foul-mouthed, movie studio executive named Les Grossman. He's mean, insensitive, self-centered, greedy, disgusting, and swears up a storm. There are moments that are hilarious, but the ridiculousness gets annoying and lame after a while, especially since he's allowed to go on and on.
I wondered if that's all he had in his bag of tricks. Did Stiller only give Cruise the ability to drop continuous f-bombs? Quite frankly, Cruise was funnier in Rain Man (1988).
Robert Downey Jr. plays Lazarus, a white Australian actor who is playing a black Vietnam soldier. Lazarus undergoes cosmetic surgery to alter his skin color and facial features, a process that is only a step above Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer (1927), or Eddie Murphy doing the reverse in Coming to America (1988). With as many biracial people out there from Barack Obama to Mariah Carey, and everything in-between, it's slightly convincing.
Both Downey and Lazarus get lost in their characters. Lazarus, in fact, doesn't break character, even when the cameras aren't rolling, and especially not when his racial stereotype goes way too far. His jive talk and slick turkey moves don't fool anybody. At least, Eddie Murphy was able to fool people, me being one, that he was a white man.
Murphy also had a better story back in 1988. This story about a bunch of vainglorious actors running around in the jungle is hardly anything anyone could care about. Even as a parody of Hollywood, I've seen for funnier things on HBO's Entourage and Extras.
Matthew McConaughey plays Tug's agent, and needless to say, he is no Ari Gold. I'm going on the record as saying that McConaughey isn't as good-looking as Jeremy Piven, and nowhere near as funny. I suppose his idiotics do come in handy here.
Jack Black's idiotics, on the other hand, do not. Black plays Jeff, one of the five actors who's going through drug withdrawal, which makes him behave even more annoying than any of Black's other movie characters. Sorry, but Black doesn't offer up any laughs here. You almost wish his character was the one that got blown up. He's unnecessary baggage.
His character plays one that's done a series of comedies similar to that of Eddie Murphy's Nutty Professor or Norbit films, but compared to what Jack Black does here, those Murphy films might as well have been done by Chaplin or Godard.
Stiller who co-wrote the script should have gotten someone like Ricky Gervais to pen this. While Stiller has a lot of insight, enough to take real jabs at Hollywood, it's not enough to form one cohesive message, or have us care about his characters.
One Star out of Five
Rated R for language, violence, drug content and sexual references
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins