From my lofty position in New York this week (no monster invasions or hilarious romantic misunderstandings so far) I have had access to newish films and thus become more smug than usual. I’ve seen these before you. Ha ha. Unless you’re American, in which case, um, nerr.
Ben Stiller’s new comedy Tropic Thunder (“TT“) was first on my hit list. With a plot derived from The Three Amigos, Galaxy Quest and Hot Shots Part Deux, TT doesn’t smack of originality, featuring a group of oddball actors attempting to make a Vietnam film and stumbling across some real bad guys in the jungle. But the cast list is enough to make this a worthy contender for your attention. Forget Stiller and Black, though. The real comedy force comes from two non-comedy actors.
If you were to say that the funniest thing in this film is Tom Cruise it’d usually be some sort of witty, cutting Cinemafool insult. But no - Cruisey is by far the best thing in this film, throwing out a belting performance. Who or what he does, I’ll leave to you to find out. Close second is the lovely Downey Jr, genius as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aussie playing a black-man. D-Jr is, though at times incomprehensible, utterly fabulous, over-acting his face off and making me smirk just thinking about “Satan’s Alley” (you’ll get it). Stiller and Black (that’s Jack) slope behind, doing the familiar. Stiller - slighty goofy but attempting heroic. Black - trying to be overly wild, only occasionally winning a laugh.
The film starts out strong, with faux trailers, faux film and the introduction of Cruisey and Stiller’s agent played by an Owen Wilson-esque Matthew McConaughey. But when we lose the entourage and get stuck in the jungle with the main actor group, the film loses some of its spark, laughs dry up and familiarity sets in. It picks up during the finale, but a promising opening leads to disappointment when you realise your face has stopped hurting from laughing and you have to watch Jack Black in his pants. Again.
Fantastic for the first third, mediocre for the second, reasonable for the third, TT is uneven but enjoyable, poking fun at Hollywood but embracing it all the same. Its saggy middle drops it to a CF1, but it’s still a fun comedy to end the summer with. And I saw it first. Ha ha ha.