When I first heard about Tropic Thunder, I thought it was going to be just another two hours of Ben Stiller and Jack Black hamming it up, or at best one of Stiller’s MTV Movie Awards parodies stretched out to feature length. Turns out it’s got plenty of both, but it manages to be surprisingly good. Those movie parodies were always funny, after all — apparently all you have to do to get a whole movie out of them is to add a few hundred million to the budget, throw in a few more celebrities, and most importantly: get Robert Downey, Jr. involved.
He’s kind of awesome in this movie. There’s one line — I can’t remember the gag, it was pretty forgettable — but his delivery is so perfect it’s almost scary funny. After the scene ended, a few people in the audience actually clapped. I’d never seen that in a movie before, people applauding the delivery of a line.
Everybody else manages to do the kind of thing they do best, they rein in the goofy camera-hogging but still manage to make it over the top, and the gags are all over the place. Most of the scenes have slapstick, puns, fart jokes, and satire all going on at the same time. Whenever Hollywood types make a satire about Hollywood, it generally makes me uncomfortable — I wonder if they’re in on the irony of making a movie to make fun of yourself for being self-absorbed. Here, they got the balance just about right.
And, probably not all that surprising, the parody trailers are perfect. I can’t remember a movie where the opening worked so well. It set the perfect tone for a movie that’s going to go balls-out goofy for the next two hours. The movie does kind of run out of power towards the end, but it’s got so much momentum from the beginning, the coasting speed is still pretty damn funny.