TROPIC THUNDER (***1/4) - Starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Reggie Lee, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise.
Directed by Ben Stiller.
Movies that are too inside-Hollywood don't tend to do well. This movie is about pampered actors making a movie who stumble upon the real thing, and it skewers everything from Method to Academy politics to agents to studios to Vietnam flicks.
The movie starts out on four great funny notes. First we get a fauz ad for Booty Sweat, an energy drink pimped by the rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson). Next we get a preview for Scorcher VI, from fading action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller). Next we get a preview for The Fatties: Fart 2, starring Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) in a bunch of fat suits as all the roles. Next is a preview for Satan's Alley, about the forbidden love between two monks in medieval times, starring 5-time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) and MTV Movie Award winner Tobey Maguire.
And then the fun begins. Speedman's an actor seeking credibility, but coming off a widely-panned Oscar-bait movie where he plays a mentally handicapped man, he could use a hit. Portnoy's a heroin addict. Lazarus is the type of Method actor who refuses to break character when the cameras aren't rolling, and he's playing an African-American soldier with Fred Williamson's hair and sideburns. Alpa Chino, an actual African-American, keeps getting annoyed at Lazarus's constant 1970's ghetto-speak. The fifth soldier is the troop is Kevin Sudansky (Jay Baruchel), a young actor in his first real movie, the only one without a vainglorious ego, the only one who sent to boot camp before they started shooting, the only one who's actually read the whole script.
Not everything about the movie works, but each actor gets their moment, and not just the five, but Nolte, Coogan, McConaughey (as an ego-feeding agent), and Cruise (as a megalomaniacal studio head). In fact seeing Cruise do comedy made me hope the long-gestating Hardy Men project between him and Stiller happens.