When location filming on the Vietnam war movie goes awry, three big name Hollywood actors become embroiled with a heroin cartel run by a tyrannical 12-year-old (Brandon Soo Hoo) and are forced to become the soldiers they are portraying.
Excess is what Tropic Thunder specialises in. Director Ben Stiller has taken the template of his last directorial effort Zoolander and replaced fashion models with actors. Crazy as it seems, the egos here are even bigger and more fragile. The actorly stereotypes are ticked off one by one.
Any doubts that Robert Downey Jr is the best actor working in Hollywood are put to bed with his supreme comic performance, wherein he completely parodies Russell Crowe. Downey has publicly denied that his character, the oh-so-serious Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus, is based on the Gladiator star, but the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming (the accent, the gestures and the pompous self-belief). To have the best role in a Vietnam war movie, Lazarus undergoes a ‘pigmentation-alteration procedure’, to make him black. When he is not impersonating the Aussie ham, Downey spends the rest of the movie ripping into Hollywood’s stereotypes of black characters. His musings, lifted from 70s/80s US TV show The Jeffersons theme song about the state of the black man in America, combined with his analysis of acting, is a masterclass on how to take a character to the extreme and then jump over the edge.
In addition to Downey, Stiller plays an action star desperate to be taken seriously as an ‘actor’, and Jack Black is a comedian famous for farting his way through gross out comedies.
Like Stiller’s previous directorial effort, and despite an impressive list of film cameos (Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise among them), Tropic Thunder looks like it’s been plotted by a child simpleton, but most of the time you’ll be laughing too hard to notice, or care.
General release from Fri 19 Sep.