Tropic Thunder, 5/19/17, 4.5 Stars.
Has Hollywood really run out of ideas? Because Ben Stiller brings us a hilariously original satire of Hollywood. Basically, it’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back set to the backdrop of filming a war film based on an in-movie book. They waste no time establishing the characters through fake ads for their products and films before getting to the movie. We open with the aforementioned fake ads before the logo of the studio behind this film, which feels jarring, but is oddly unique, and the pacing stabilizes sooner rather than later. We then get right to the shooting of the war movie that ends with a botched scene and falling a month behind schedule in five days. We meet our cast here: Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), none of whom can really do what director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) asks of them, resulting in a new type of filmmaking: planting cameras in the jungle, and making the actors do their thing by creating a more realistic environment. What follows after the director is blown up by a landmine is a rip roaringly hilarious tale of Hollywood actors getting a more real taste of war than dressing up and playing soldier in front of a camera could ever get them. Each member of the group has their moment, especially one between Alpha Chino and Kirk Lazarus that addresses the blackface controversy by having Alpha say what’s on a lot of viewers’ minds. To be clear, RDJ is not trying to play a black guy: he is playing a white guy cast as a black guy who surgically alters his skin to accommodate the role. He doesn’t wear blackface to mock the race, but to mock the use of blackface in movies, because fun fact: early films with black characters sometimes had white actors do just that, such as in Birth of a Nation from 1915. There’s a whole lot of stuff that shouldn’t make sense in this movie, but this is an over-the-top world, so just roll with the laughs. They aren’t trying to force this believable world on us, just doing what the story asks to make fun of Hollywood and have a good laugh at it. My only complaint would be some cheap effects, and not ones that were part of the movie shoot within the movie. I think they were supposed to be that way, but I feel like they forced too much out of that. Otherwise, everything else goes down for a reason, keeping this film from being a sequence of incoherent babble and laughter. Another great way they keep the audience engaged is through Theodore Shapiro’s soundtrack, which captures the wild nature of the big action sequences with electric guitar tunes I just can’t help but laugh at with the scenes they’re paired with. Tropic Thunder brings the laughs in every darn way possible, with sailor language and dirty jokes throughout. They have fun while making fun at the same time.