Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise

Director: Ben Stiller

Screenplay: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen

Cinematography: John Toll

Original Score: Theodore Shapiro

Running Time: 107 Mins.

Aiming for two genres is often a big mistake, especially when one genre purports to be comedy and the other action. So many films have attempted to marry these equally OTT film styles and fallen arse over tit in their attempts, resulting in a film that is either succeeds on one front and fails on the other or, as is more often the case, not quite getting either right, the most recent example of this happening being with last weeks Pineapple Express

The latest person to tread this oh-so finest of lines is Ben Stiller, writing, starring in and directing Tropic Thunder. Stillers last directorial effort was Zoolander and in truth, the bottom line is if you love that, you’ll adore this. However Thunder is a much better film, for so many reasons, that’s not damning Zoolander, simply putting into perspective quite how good Thunder really is. Of this summer’s glut of comedy by the vast majority oh big comedy stars (Ferrell, Sandler, Myers, Rogen, Carrell) this is the best by a mile, and more fundamently the funniest, bringing the summer season to a fantastic close and blowing the Autumn/Winter season wide open.

Opening rather bafflingly with an advert for a drink called Booty Sweat it soon becomes clear that Stiller’s one and only aim is to satirise the Hollywood film industry, with the main protagonists being introduced in a series of ‘trailers’, the highlight being Devil’s Alley, starring the rather brilliant Robert Downey Jr. as a gay monk, sharing glances and pursed lips with Tobey Maguire, all before fondling each others beads, and if you think it sounds funny wait until you see it! Each trailer has its own merits, and aims at a different star ‘type’, Black is the comedy actor who gets his hits from playing multiple characters and farting a lot (can you guess who he might be satirising!), Stiller is the blockbuster action guy struggling to find some critical awareness as a serious actor and Downey Jr. is the Oscar winner who has those plaudits Stiller’s Tugg Speedman so craves. These ‘actors’ are thrown together, along with Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel (both names to watch in the future), whilst filming war epic Tropic Thunder, based on a book by grizzled Nick Nolte’s ‘real life war vet’ Four Leaf Tayback. It conspires that in order for director Steve Coogan to get the best out of his actors, and try to lose them of their huge egos, he drops them in the middle of a live warzone which is unbeknown to them, and armed only with scene-cards, the band must act out to the various hidden cameras, while avoiding opium guerrilas that are really trying to kill them.

This is a setup that in all honesty is really a no brainer for getting laughs, the thing is Stiller doesn’t simply go for the easy laughs and there are two sides to the humour of Thunder. The first, and it has to be said most successful, is in its parody of actors, of all shapes, sizes and guises, no subject is left untouched and if you’re looking for political correctness your in the wrong place. Downey Jr’s. Kirk Lazarus, being a method actor, has pigment alteration to his skin in order to play a black soldier. Yes you read that correctly, and throughout the film “until the DVD commentary is recorded” Lazarus stays in character. The casting here is such a coup, and it is he who is the backbone of the film, riding high on the success of Iron Man Downey Jr. shows why he is a truly great actor while at the same time parodying such an idea, just to look at him makes you laugh but its when he opens his mouth spitting forth some of the best one liners in many a year that your ribs really will be aching from laughing so much.

The problem with Downey Jr. being so good is that Ben Stiller himself has been overlooked by many critics, at his best in slightly edgier roles he really makes Tugg Speedman seem like an oaf, but a very likeable one, and for a comedy of this type the charcters are all written with such depth. The best and most memorable scene in the film comes where Lazarus describes to Speedman how he shouldn’t have gone “full retard” for the Simple Jack role, which has caused much controversy in the States. The funny thing is it’s not the “retards” the film is garnering the humour from, its the actor’s who think playing them will make them Oscar worthy!

Of the main threesome it’s Black that fares worst, he’s very good but has few memorable lines and is often reduced to being what I would describe as the flip side to the satirical humour. He is essentially there to provide the fart/fat people/stupid jokes, the saving grace is they are on the whole very funny, and it meshes well with what the other players do, especially in having Jay Baruchel spar with him to great effect.

So the comedy was classy, and the meat of the film but the action is what really gives it a shine, in having legendary DOP John Toll on board the film looks and sounds as good as any action film i’ve seenall year. Some of the shots are truly epic across the jungle’s, and while its certainly nothing new it really is done exceptionally well and must be seen on the biggest screen to be appreciated. Despite being few and far between the gunfights are also top notch with some great pyrotechnics courtesy of Danny McBride (who is used to much better effect here than he was in Pineapple Express), the scene where he prematurely blows $4 million worth of explosives is worth the admission price alone!

Well that’s the icing on the cake covered…as for the cherry, well to say to much would be to spoil a lot of why its funny but there are two very good, extended cameos for a certain Tom Cruise as a Harvey Weinstein type studio head and Matthew McConaughey filling in for Owen Wilson as Ben Stiller’s agent, both are outstanding, especially Cruise, demonstrating why he should do more out and out comedy, the only downside is he takes it a bit TOO far to try and gain ‘cool’ credibilty with a dance scene in the closing credits. That is, however a very minor quibble in a huge success!

VERDICT

Firing from all barrell’s Tropic Thunder is big success in every sense of the word, hitting the mark every time and satirising Hollywood while at the same time making a proper polished Hollywood comedy, seems ironic that! Downey Jr. continues his rise to the top and beyond, while Stiller demonstrates why he should direct more edgy fare and give the kiddie comedies a wide berth! Tropic Thunder 2 next please Mr. Stiller!

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