Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Ben Stiller makes arguably his best directorial effort with this variation on the “Three Amigos” formula, in which 4 ego-maniacal actors are unknowingly dropped in the middle of Viet Nam to do a “guerrilla-style” shooting of their new war movie, “Tropic Thunder,” only to find themselves forced to become real life heroes.

Stiller plays an action movie star who is in the mists of a career slump following an ill-advised attempt at serious drama.

Jack Black plays a heroin-addicted comedic actor who specializes in fat-suit comedies a la Eddie Murphy. Robert Downey Jr. is charged with the dubious honor of playing a serious award-winning Australian actor (basically Russell Crowe) who in preparation for his latest role as a black soldier undergoes controversial skin surgery darkening the color of his skin.

First off, it's a relief to see Stiller playing a non-neurotic character for change, and although physically he doesn't really sell the action movie star thing, he does a good job of never going over the top with his performance. Jack Black on the other hand, is the only one of the three leads that struggles to score laughs, his drug-ailed-clown routine doesn't really pay off until the 3rd act, but when it does, it really does! The real meat and potatoes here though is Downey Jr. who is pretty much out on a limb the entire film, and manages to not just nail some big laughs, but also a few subtle ones too. He pretty much steals the show.

The movie is rounded out with a ton of great supporting turns including Steve Coogan as the film's frustrated director, Nick Nolte as a grizzled war-vet-turned-writer, and Danny McBride (of "Pineapple Express") as the film's special effects coordinator. There are also two extended cameos by Tom Cruise and Mathew McConaughey, the former of which must be seen to be believed. All in all, the movie's 2nd act is a little weak, but it begins and ends strong and when I walked out the theater I had big smile on my face.

I watched a "tech" screening of "Tropic Thunder" on 8/11/08 at the Tinseltown 20.

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