In a similar vein to Grindhouse, Tropic Thunder opens with a selection of faux trailers that get the laughs rolling the moment the curtain opens. With the film charting the shooting of an identically titled fictional war epic, the ‘actors’ give a glimpse as to their future work before the real action happens.
Ben Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, an action movie star, making his name in the Scorcher series, Jack Black plays Jeff Portnoy, the comedy star behind flatulence movies The Fatties and Fart Club and Robert Downey Jr. plays Kirk Lazarus, a multi-award winning method actor from WWII drama If You Could Hear What I See. In the run up to the opening credits, after the obligatory real trailers you’ll be treated to a selection of fakes starring Tugg et. all, hilariously including Satan’s Alley starring Kirk Lazarus, a man of the clergy who falls for a fellow priest, played by Tobey Maguire and the other aforementioned titles.
Returning behind the camera for the first time since 2001, co-writer/director/co-producer/actor Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder is of course the real spectacle. Following the production team of an epic war film, in-movie director Damien Cockburn (Coogan) is struggling to keep to schedule and his actors in check. After failing to film the one-chance multi-million dollar explosion sequence is at the wrong end of the studio boss’ fury and given one last chance to resurrect the project.
Advised by war veteran Four Leaf Tayback (Nolte), Cockburn rigs cameras throughout a local jungle, wrought with guerrilla fighters, and dumps the actors in the middle, leaving them to fight their own way out.
While it certainly doesn’t provide quite enough laughs to be considered a comedy classic, with the performances and timing of experienced actors Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. (whom plays an black soldier) and even Matthew McConaughey’s side part, Tropic Thunder will keep you chuckling along and never starts to drag towards boredom. Even more pleasingly, the film only occasionally resorts to brainless slapstick, a problem that has blighted a great deal of recent comedies.
The funniest character and scenes, however, come from a surprising Tom Cruise cameo. Donning a fat suit to play the studio boss behind the war movie, Cruise will win back a great deal of fans with his performance, closing the film by dancing to a hip-hop track which will leave you in tears as you walk out of the cinema.
On the whole, Tropic Thunder might not be quite as good as the whole experience, faux trailers et all, deserves but adds another thoroughly enjoyable film to the Frat Pack filmography. Ben Stiller has made an entertaining sub-two hour escapade that despite not quite making the most of a great idea, will help further give comedy a good name while more serious efforts garner the majority of critical acclaim.