The Films of Ben Stiller
Tropic Thunder (August 12/08)
An uneven yet consistently hilarious comedy, Tropic Thunder follows several movie stars (including Ben Stiller's Tugg Speedman, Jack Black's Jeff Portnoy, and Robert Downey Jr's Kirk Lazarus) as they find themselves unknowingly embroiled in a real-life battle with deadly drug traffickers while shooting an expensive Vietnam epic. The film, directed and co-written by Stiller, boasts an admittedly uneven sensibility that never becomes as entirely problematic as one might've expected, with the the relentlessly irreverent screenplay and almost uniformly compelling performances certainly proving instrumental in sustaining the viewer's continuing interest. There's little doubt, however, that it's Downey Jr's absolutely spellbinding turn as Lazarus - an Australian award winner who's undergone surgery to portray the movie-with-the-movie's black sergeant - that stands as Tropic Thunder's most indelible and flat-out entertaining element, as the actor's comically exaggerated delivery and mannerisms ensure that his mere presence perks up even the simplest of sequences (his "full retard" speech is alone worth the price of a ticket). Stiller, Black, and their various co-stars are also quite good, yet it's not without a small degree of surprise that an unbilled Tom Cruise inevitably establishes himself as the film's secret weapon - with his go-for-broke, scene-stealing performance as vicious studio boss Les Grossman unquestionably a highlight within an already impressive effort. It's subsequently not surprising to note that Tropic Thunder is at its best during its more overtly character-driven sequences, although - admittedly - there's no denying the effectiveness of the movie's increasingly expansive action set pieces.