Filed in Tropic Thunder

Review: ‘Tropic Thunder’ rains down comedic excellence

In spite of the fact he is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, I must confess that I am not a fan of Ben Stiller. (…) was with this in mind that I attended “Tropic Thunder,” a film that not only starred Stiller, but was written and directed by him as well. I fully expected to dislike it — but, much like a jungle ambush, it took me by surprise. It is, hands down, the funniest film that I have seen this year.

“Tropic Thunder” follows the production of a Vietnam war film featuring four famous but individually challenging entertainers. Tugg Speedman (Stiller) is an action-movie star looking for an award-calibre role that will revive his sagging career. Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) is an Oscar-winning thespian who will stop at nothing to “step into the skin” of his character. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is a heroin-addicted slacker and star of the “Fatties” movie franchise who will stoop to any level to feed his habit. Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) is a hip-hop star who is trying to segue into film. Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) is a rookie actor hoping for his big break with his cinematic idols.

This talented but motley crew is led by Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), a first-time director who is losing control of his production. After an epic dressing-down by studio head Les Grossman (Tom Cruise), and with some assistance from burnout writer Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) and pyromaniac stunt director Cody (Danny McBride), Cockburn decides to inject some reality into the film by dropping his prima donna cast into the jungle with little more than a map. Unbeknownst to Cockburn, the jungle is fraught with all manner of dangers, not the least of which is a brutal drug lord’s heroin den. It is going to take the performance of their lives to negotiate their way out of this scene.

I have to admit that, after watching this film, I have developed a cautious respect for Stiller. This film is one of the most biting, witty pieces of satire that I have seen on-screen in a long time. The story is original, the dialogue is smart and the action moves the film along without being ridiculous. While it is not necessarily Oscar material, I will be surprised if “Tropic Thunder” does not make its way onto the nomination list for a few Golden Globes.

Much has been said about the performance of Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, an actor so oblivious to anything beyond his craft that he is willing to cross the boundaries of political correctness and decency to inhabit his character. Without a doubt, he has created a very amusing and intentionally annoying character. I have always enjoyed Downey Jr., and he did not disappoint me in this film.

But, for me, the highlight of this film was not the performances of the lead actors, but rather the cameo performance by Cruise. I cannot remember the last time that I laughed so hard or so loud in a theatre. Cruise’s performance was hilariously campy — he stole every scene in which he appeared. I am still not convinced that Cruise could carry a comedy on his own, but in this ensemble piece, he succeeds in delivering the best comedic performance that I have seen this year. It will be a crime if he is not nominated for a Golden Globe.

“Tropic Thunder” is a film that I would recommend without hesitation. I entered the theatre expecting a slightly tasteless display of toilet humour, and exited having spent two hours watching a smart satire that mocks the political incorrectness and the Hollywood vice that sits on its surface. Whether you see it for Downey Jr. or you see it for Cruise, by all means see it — this is one of the summer’s best films. (Timmins Daily Press)

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