A spectacular send-up of all things Hollywood, Tropic Thunder is equal parts satire, spoof and parody. Ben Stiller, who co-wrote, produced and directed the film, has truly outdone himself. Often outrageous and outlandish, from the opening montage of fake film trailers (Robert Downey Jr.'s character, five-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus, stars alongside Tobey Maguire as a closeted Franciscan monk in Satan's Alley) that our intrepid actors-within-the-movie made prior to embarking on the truly meta journey that is Tropic Thunder, this movie pushes all the right buttons in all the wrong ways.
Ben Stiller, as washed up action movie star Tugg Speedman, leads a cast of equally ridiculous actors (the aforementioned Downey; Jack Black as fart-comedy king Jeff Portnoy; Jay Baruchel as the young, inexperienced Kevin Sandusky; and Brandon T. Jackson as the awesomely-named rapper Alpa Chino, who is constantly hawking his energy drink, Booty Sweat) as they attempt to film the "greatest war movie ever," in the jungles of Vietnam, where the ill-equipped (both emotionally and physically) cast becomes stranded and stumbles upon a heroin cartel called the Flaming Dragon, led by a cute 12-year-old sadist named Tran (Brandon Soo Hoo - keep an eye out; this kid is fantastic).
Also along for the ride as the inept first-time director Damien Cockburn is the wonderfully silly Steve Coogan (go see Hamlet 2 when it opens) and the almost unrecognizable Tom Cruise as movie mogel Les Grossman, rumored to be a jab at Viacom executive Sumner Redstone, who kicked Cruise's production company to the curb in 2006 after Cruise's couch-jumping summer, or perhaps Harvey Weinstein. Cruise wears padding, a bald cap and huge prosthetic arms and hands, and delivers quite possibly his best performance (at least second best, after Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia) as the ill-tempered, foul-mouthed ("A nutless monkey could do your job," he tells his hapless assistant), Diet Coke-chugging producer.
Aside from Cruise's off-the-wall caricature, Downey Jr. really steals the movie as Kirk Lazarus, an actor so committed to his role as African-American Sergeant Lincoln Osiris that he undergoes a "controversial pigmentation procedure" to turn his skin black. As Lazarus says in the film after Speedman questions why he remains Osiris even between takes, "I don't break character until after recording the DVD commentary." Downey Jr. is absolutely hysterical in his portrayal of the Australian method actor (he does a dead on Russell Crowe impersonation) who loses himself so completely in his role as Osiris. The man is simply brilliant (and, if his recent Rolling Stone cover story is anything to go on, a little strange in "real life").
Tropic Thunder has come under fire from mentally-challenged advocacy groups (how else do I describe them?) and folks from the Special Olympics for its supposed offensive film-within-the-film, Simple Jack, in which Stiller's character, Tugg Speedman, goes "full retard," as Kirk Lazarus puts it, in a shameless attempt to win an Oscar award. While I don't think it's anyone's business to tell someone else not to be offended by something, I honestly don't understand why the mentally-challenged (seriously, what's the "politically correct" term?) community is all up in arms. If anything, Tropic Thunder skewers pompous Hollywood actors in their shallow quest for Academy gold. Downey Jr. delivers a beautifully scathing monologue about why Tom Hanks won an Oscar for Forrest Gump, but Sean Penn didn't for I Am Sam: "Everybody knows you never go full retard ... Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, look retarded, act retarded. Not retarded ... And then you got Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump. Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs, but he charmed the pants off ... and won a ping pong competition. That's not retarded ... Never go full retard."
Stiller and company are not making fun of the mentally challenged; they're making fun of Hollywood's interpretations of the mentally challenged, which I think makes a big difference.
But I digress.
Tropic Thunder is laugh-out-loud funny and well-worth your time and money. It's quite possibly the funniest movie of the year, and Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise alone make it worth seeing.