Ben Stiller leads an ensemble squad of A-list stars in a movie about actors acting as Vietnam soldiers who get themselves into real trouble when they head deep into the jungles of Asia to explore Hollywood’s heart of darkness.
Ben Stiller plays action movie star Tugg Speedman whose star is quickly fading.
After a botched attempt at getting an Academy Award leaves him scrambling to find work, Speedman gets cast in a movie filled with a ragtag group of actors and wannabes.
Among them are Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), an actor’s actor who takes method acting to the extreme going so far as to surgically change the color of his skin for the role, and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a one-dimensional comic with a history of drug addiction.
After production falls behind, the cast is dropped into the jungle to be filmed by hidden cameras as they trek through unknown territory following a script and directions to a helicopter awaiting them at the end.
When the actors find themselves in the crosshairs of a drug army, they don’t realize they’re being hunted for real. Slowly, things come into focus and pretenses are stripped away as they begin to confront the truth of the situation and within themselves.
The aspects of their characters (real and pretend) become tested the longer the actors spend time with each other. Especially hilarious is Downey’s turn as Lazarus, whose dedication to the craft starts to offend his co-stars.
It’s only when Speedman is taken hostage and forced to re-enact the role that brought his career crashing down that the band rallies around a cause that’s bigger than themselves. Finding the motivation they need to pull themselves out of their collective rut, they let go of their egos and save the day.
For those who’ve watched Scary Movie, Not Another Teen Movie, and Superhero Movie and wondered when War Movie would come out, Tropic Thunder fills that niche and puts the rest of the genre to shame. Though it’s largely inconsistent from a start to finish — it’s a movie with a bit of gravity here and some over the top moments there — it’s cohesive where it matters.