Saving the best for first is never a good idea in a movie, or in the case of Tropic Thunder, the radically raunchy pseudo-trailers that precede this jungle gross-out. And perhaps wearing far too many hats for his own good, Ben Stiller directs himself and has co-written and co-produced this star studded movie within a movie, that plays far too fast and loose with politically incorrect caricatures.
Often more grating than comical, Tropic Thunder focuses in on a movie in progress in the jungles of Southeast Asia. When production on the mega-budget war film gets bogged down on location, hemorrhaging big bucks and bringing on the ferocious mogul wrath by remote back in Hollywood, of a truly frightening newly bald, hairy and paunchy Tom Cruise, the British director (Steve Coogan) goes for broke. He sends the actors into the wild to generate gritty docudrama realism, throwing caution and hi-tech production values to the wind.
And the celeb stars, who can maneuver with ease through a script, are truly clueless when left to fend for themselves in real life, as strategically located surveillance cameras supposedly record the fictional and literal disaster in progress. The increasingly freaked out ensemble includes Stiller’s nervous wreck Tugg Speedman; Jack Black as a semi-deranged doper; Robert Downey Jr. as an Australian superstar who takes method acting to such extremes that he’s undergone pigment altering surgery to play a black soldier; and smutty rapper turned aspiring serious thespian Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), an authentic black soldier in the cast who won’t let the ridiculous mimic forget his racial insult for a minute.
The baffled bunch finally realize that their situation is in no way make-believe. That is, when real bullets start flying in their direction and they’re pursued by Flaming Dragon, a cutthroat jungle cartel of international drug dealers headed by a homicidal twelve year old child soldier (Brandon Soo Hoo).
Meanwhile back at a decidedly more comfortable control center, the suspect temperamental writer of the original Rambo-style adapted novel (Nick Nolte) and Speedman’s panicked agent (Matthew McConaughey) fret long distance while Cruise’s crazed honcho, who is nearly as frightening as anything potentially encountered on location, devilishly dances around in what might be described as a bizarre update of his classic Risky Business musical romp. More frantic than funny, Tropic Thunder not only confuses real life with a movie, but less intentionally can’t seem to distinguish shrill from silly either.