Ben Stiller gets plenty of props for being a box office draw, but few people cut him much slack for his directorial efforts.
That’s a shame since “The Cable Guy” got a bum rap and “Zoolander” emerged as a minor comic classic. We’ll let the product placement jamboree known as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” slide as a bad day at the office for Stiller.
He hit comic paydirt, big time, with “Tropic Thunder,” a big-budget, bigger cast comedy which he directed, co-wrote and stars in.
He plays Tugg Speedman, a vain actor (redundant?) shooting a Vietnam War drama on location. Tugg and the cast think it’s all a glorified Hollywood set, but the film’s desperate director (Steve Coogan) deposits the cast in an actual hot spot to keep the actors in line.
Calamity follows, and the stars (Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr. among them) must fend for themselves if they ever want to return home in one piece.
Hollywood loves insider parodies, but this is one comic tale that people who don’t live and die by The Hollywood Reporter can appreciate. The cheeky cameos help. Matthew McConaughey keeps his shirt on but otherwise feels right at home as Tugg’s morally challenged agent. And Tom Cruise’s turn as a maniacal studio executive recharged the actor’s career at a time when it was fading fast.
“Thunder’s” humor takes the kitchen sink approach, wallowing in silliness in between fits of inspiration. The latter mostly comes courtesy of Downey, Jr. He plays an Aussie Oscar winner who artificially darkens his skin to play a black soldier. It’s the ultimate acting challenge, he figures.
The role would crumble in lesser hands, but the erstwhile “Iron Man” is fully in character – and uniformly hilarious – without ever stepping over the stereotype line. He’s the butt of his own joke.
So, too, is Tugg thanks to a movie within a movie named “Simple Jack,” even if it’s not executed as smoothly as Downey, Jr.’s storyline.
“Tropic Thunder” drew fire from special interest groups at the time of its release for its frequent use of the word “retard.” Discerning audiences will know where the humor is targeted. And they’ll be laughing too hard to take offense.
DID YOU KNOW: Tom Cruise deserves credit for his boisterous role in “Tropic Thunder,” and not just for the performance. He asked that the character be added to the story after he was considered for Tugg’s agent. Cruise then created Les Grossman along with Ben Stiller.