Tropic Thunder sure made noise when it came out.
You had an all-star comedy cast, with Robert Downey Jr. famously and controversially playing an African American character... or, rather, a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude, and ultimately winning an Oscar for his performance. The film also included a nearly unrecognisable Tom Cruise in a rare goofy comedy role at a time where his popularity really needed a boost.
The movie's plot revolves around a group of egomaniacal Hollywood actors working on a super-expensive Apocalypse Now-style war movie. When the film goes massively over budget and looks like it'll flop harder than John Carter, the film's director (played by Steve Coogan) decides to follow Nick Nolte's advice (he plays the writer of the novel the film is an adaptation of) and land all the actors in the real Vietnamese jungle so they can somehow shoot a gritty and more realistic version of the movie. Which is odd since that doesn't really seem like a cheaper solution and puts the actors' lives at risk but never mind. Similarly to that old Bill Murray movie, The Man Who Knew Too Little, you kinda have to suspend your disbelief and accept the ludicrous premise. The actors, armed with real weapons, a map and a scene list, cross the jungle despite their director's premature demise and all kinds of shenanigans follow. You've got Ben Stiller murdering a panda, a nutty rescue mission where Downey Jr. plays yet another role while still in character, numerous jokes about a bad movie called Simple Jack and Tom Cruise's Les Grossman popping up every so often to shout and dance.
A big fan of the movie when it first came out, watching it now I must admit that it is, indeed, pretty hit-and-miss.
Everyone does a good job, especially Cruise and Downey Jr. but the latter's performance may be a tad overrated. He's funny... when you can understand what he says! Actually, between Nolte's gruff voice, Black's constant screaming, Stiller's low tones and Downey Jr's silly voice, it's kinda hard to hear a lot of the jokes. Speaking of Jack Black, he really is this movie's missed opportunity. He's such a one-note character that every time he's on-screen the film loses all its funny. His one joke is that he's a drug addict and suffers from withdrawal symptoms. Chris Farley was the main inspiration for the character and, honestly, Farley would have been hilarious in that role. Black tries hard, maybe too hard, but the script just isn't sharp enough to give him any really good jokes to work with. Luckily, the film does have its classic moments: the opening fake trailers are brilliant, Cruise's against-type performance is a great surprise and leaves you wanting more, the film's Pearl Harbor parody is genius and it's good to see a comedy try something different by mixing genres and doing its own thing. Much like This Is The End did earlier this year, for example. The rest of the cast includes Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Brandon T. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey, all of whom do a decent job but sadly don't really stand out.
Tropic Thunder is a fun movie with a hard-to-dislike cast which does boast some genuinely really funny moments. Like I said, though, it's pretty hit-and-miss and a sharper script would have made some of the more forgettable jokes work. I do recommend it, especially if you like Ben Stiller's movies but he's made better, funnier films.