Owain Paciuszko 20/09/2008
I have long been a fan of Ben Stiller as a director, his debut 'Reality Bites' was a great Gen-Pepsi angst flick, 'The Cable Guy' is Jim Carrey's finest out-and-out comedy, his un-aired pilot 'Heat Vision and Jack' is essential YouTube viewing and 'Zoolander' is a contemporary quotable lunatic classic that sits alongside 'Anchorman' in the highpoints of 21st century American nonsense.
'Tropic Thunder' was seeming too good to be true, and perhaps the sheer expectation of it was too much for it to shoulder?
It tells the 'Three Amigos!'-like tale of a quintet of actors thrust into a real 'war' whilst filming a war movie. Stiller is the lunk-headed action star Tugg Speedman (basically a slightly smarter 'Zoolander' by way of his Tom Crooze character), Jack Black is a coke-addled Chris Farley-esque comedy star and Robert Downey Jr. plays the extreme-method actor who undergoes skin pigmentation surgery to play the military unit's African American Sgt. Osiris. They are joined by rapper Alpa Chino (Bradon T. Jackson) and a struggling, hard-working young actor (Jay Baruchel).
Alas Downey Jr.'s character is the only one that actually really draws laughter here and most of those laughs have been plastered over innumerable trailers and clips and pop-ups. Stiller, as mentioned, is distinctly Zoolander-lite (Derek couldn't turn left, here Tugg struggles to cry on cue). Black's character seems rather pointless and only really gets one moment to shine (tied to a tree), and the minor twosome (Jackson and Baruchel) are just that. Somewhere in the mix you will also find Steve Coogan, Matthew McConaughey, Danny McBride, Nick Nolte and Tom Cruise; but none of their characters seem as well drawn as the likes of (to continue the 'Zoolander' comparisons) Mugatu, Hansel, Maury Ballstein or even Mugatu's assistant Todd.
Disapointingly the best thing you can say about this film is that it looks fantastic, Stiller's visual sense has always been interesting, painting his comedy in quirky dark touches and really showing that you don't have to rely on the two-shot for funny. Here he has a huge budget and an Oscar-winning cinematographer to play with, and it shows. Sadly with this concept and this cast you really expect a madcap, grand, inspired work of comic inspiration. If the film was called and solely focused upon Kirk Lazarus (the name of Downey Jr's actor character) then that may have been what we got, unfortunately the rest of the ingriedients in this mix just sour the taste.