From the genius fake trailers at the start to Tom Cruise’s end titles dance routine (no, really), Tropic Thunder is one hell of a night at the movies.
Since Zoolander, Ben Stiller’s last directorial effort, the Judd Apatow set has hit big, blending laughs and pathos, and you can tell that Stiller has upped his game as a result. Not only is Tropic Thunder cheek-aching funny, it’s also satirical, cleverly plotted, thrilling in places and has a real beating heart. As stupid as its main characters may be, by the end you actually do care whether they make it.
Stiller’s Tugg Speedman is the anchor point – Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz in ‘dumb action star’ form. Meanwhile, Black gets to mock himself, Stiller and every other overpaid Hollywood screwball as drug-hoover Jeff Portnoy, star of The Fatties, a fart-based movie series in which he plays all the characters (sound familiar, Eddie Murphy?).
But it’s Downey Jr., as method actor Kirk Lazarus, who makes the film. Every time he speaks, every noise he makes, hell, every time his pigment-altered face appears, it’s a riot, walking a satirical line between ignorantly racist and innocently insecure to perfection. Steve Coogan’s part in the film is all too brief, but his exit is the funniest moment you’ll see on film this year and it’s Downey Jr.’s deadpan confusion that really makes it.
Throw in Tom Cruise shrieking: “Now take a step back, and fuck your own face!” as hairy-armed R&B-loving studio exec Les Grossman and you’ve got an ensemble to die for, in a film that makes the most of it. Tropic Thunder could easily have been a crass spoof, or a disjointed skit-based affair. It isn’t – it works, and you’ll be quoting it for months.