The making of the biggest war movie never made, or so the synopsis goes. Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr star as Tugg Speedman, Jeff Portnoy and Kirk Lazarus - three self-involved actors bogged down in the middle of making a war epic, a la Apocalypse Now. Speedman is a fading action star desperate for recognition, Portnoy is a white, The Klumps-era Eddie Murphy and Lazarus is Daniel Day Lewis dialled up to 11 and transposed to Australia.
The opening sequence, showing the Huey helicopters flying over the jungle could be the beginning of any Vietnam War film ever made, and feel thoroughly authentic. In fact, the opening scenes would fit uncomfortably well into most war films – no doubt the intended effect.
The funniest moment in the film is perhaps the demise of director Damien Cockburn, played by Steve Coogan, who steps on a landmine and then disintegrates marvellously with a pop into a fine mist of human remains. It is so sudden and happens with such little fanfare that it's fully a second or two before your brain catches up and realises what has happened. A true laugh-out-loud moment.
And laugh-out-loud moments are, unfortunately, far too rare a thing in Tropic Thunder - a fact made worse by the fact that by the time I saw the film in the cinema, I had seen many of the film's best jokes dozens of times in the trailers. Jack Black took over an hour and a half before he made me laugh once. And herein lies much of the problem with Tropic Thunder: this is an extremely high-calibre cast and writing team, and there just aren't enough jokes. It's a simple as that. It's not funny enough. Tropic Thunder generated, from me, a fraction of the laughs that Pineapple Express did. What's more, I found Pineapple Express' send-up of Hollywood action movies in its final half hour far funnier, and sharper too.
However, it's not all doom and gloom for Tropic Thunder - it does have its moments. Tom Cruise is hilarious as the bile-spitting wolfman studio executive, nailing the performance of a man constructed entirely of ego and rage. The mock trailers that precede the film are also pretty funny. (Replace Jack Black in his with Eddie Murphy, and you have about half the films he's been in this past decade.)
All in all, Tropic Thunder is a little hit and miss, and not as funny as it thinks it is. It’s not all bad, thankfully, and has plenty of gags, but I couldn’t help but feel like I deserved more, and I think you’ll feel the same. B-.