Not a complete disaster

But over-the-top Tropic Thunder is no victory either

MAKING SOME NOISE<br>Jack Black, Black Face and Black Heart in search of the bad guys.

Jack Black, Black Face and Black Heart in search of the bad guys.

Tropic Thunder
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Tom Cruise. Directed by Ben Stiller. Rated R.
Rated 2.0

In this movie, in which they’re making a movie, the two main actors struggle to share the spotlight because they’re both leading men. Appropriate, considering that’s the same problem Tropic Thunder encounters, with a handful of stars who are all quite capable of leading the show, though no one quite takes the reins.

Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller and Jack Black play actors on the set in the jungles of Vietnam. They share much of the screen time, but even with Downey Jr. in black face, Stiller acting retarded and Black freaking out every five minutes, only Downey Jr. truly stands out, as he clearly takes the biggest character jump.

In a slightly scary surprise, it’s Tom Cruise, playing a foul-mouthed, balding film producer in charge of the project, who pulls through with some of the funniest scenes, although they’re admittedly low-brow. But, so is the rest of the film.

Tropic Thunder begins on location in Vietnam, where the crew is shooting a climactic scene in a movie based on a book about a heroic rescue mission during the war. Downey Jr.'s character has undergone surgery to darken his skin for his role as a black Army sergeant. Stiller plays a former action star who, after playing the role of a retarded boy, faces the possibility of career death. And Black is an overweight junky who makes bank on fart jokes. The group is rounded out by a rap star and a geeky white guy.

The producer hates the way the film is coming along, so the director decides to try things guerilla-style. He drops the actors in the middle of the jungle with a map and cue cards, rigs up some cameras in the trees, and lets his special-effects guy have free rein with the explosives. Needless to say, nothing goes quite the way it’s supposed to.

The film has gotten some flak for the repeated use of the word “retard” to describe Stiller’s character (there have been numerous protests outside theaters), but dialogue makes it clear Stiller, who wrote and directed, had this reaction in mind from the start.

As far as comedies are concerned, Tropic Thunder isn’t a complete disaster. The plot, while funny at times, is utterly predictable, though there are a few surprises along the way. Oddly enough, it’s the actors who make it both predictable and surprising. Stiller and Black play their usual on-screen personas, although Downey Jr. and Cruise throw us for a loop—even if that loop is a bit over-the-top.