Ben Stiller might not act in the greatest movies, but he sure knows how to write and direct them. With ‘Tropic Thunder’, Stiller creates an explosive new comedy that’s sure to blow anyone’s socks off.

‘Thunder’ starts off right from what its trailer sets up: director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) wants to create the greatest war movie of all time, but his lead actors in his film-based-on-a-book-based-on-a-true-story (but is it?) don’t have the emotional scope needed to understand the complexities behind the Vietnam War.

After some difficult struggles with his prima donna actors: Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Cockburn is convinced by the author of the book Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) to drop the actors in the middle of Vietnam and shoot the movie ‘guerilla-style’. Both the film and the book in the movie are named ‘Tropic Thunder’, which is where the title of the actual film comes from.

It takes about 20 minutes for Lazarus, Portnoy, Speedman, Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) to be stranded in the middle of nowhere in Vietnam, thinking that they are filming a movie that had suddenly become very real. The movie just becomes funnier as it goes along, with the actors never being quite sure whether or not they are actually in a movie or not.

Also, as a slightly-spoilerish warning, the ad you will see for “Booty Sweat” is not the cinema going insane, but rather marks the completely inventive and perfectly hysterical introduction to “Tropic Thunder”. You have been warned.

While not as outlandish as ‘Zoolander’ was, ‘Tropic Thunder’ is set outside our reality in a way that everyone can understand. Ben Stiller has said in previous interviews that he wrote ‘Thunder’ as a parody of the movie business and, even if no one in the audience understood it, it would still be hysterical to him. Well Ben, we get it, and it’s still pretty funny.

Unexpected were the many cameos, both big and small, made by some of Hollywood’s biggest actors. Matthew McConaughey has a surprisingly big role as Speedman’s agent, and Tom Cruise definitely deserves all the buzz he’s been getting as the big-time film executive behind ‘Tropic Thunder’. Danny McBride was hysterical as the pyromaniac effects guy Cody. Also keep an eye out for Bill Hader, Tyra Banks, Maria Menunos, Jason Bateman, Lance Bass, Alicia Silverstone, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jon Voight, Christine Taylor and an I-can’t-believe-he-did-that Tobey Maguire (don’t be late or you’ll miss that one). Oh yeah, Stiller got them all.

Sure it may not be the most outright intelligent film to make a mockery of Hollywood, but there is plenty of insider humor that can be relished by all. The scene where Lazarus explains to Speedman why he didn’t get an Oscar for his role as the mentally retarded boy Jack in his film ‘Simple Jack’ because he went “full retard” was one of the funniest scenes in the film.

Downey was hysterical as Lazarus who becomes so immersed in his role that he changed his skin color in order to become more in character. Black was very two dimensional and not funny as Portnoy, the heroine-addicted fat guy. And Stiller was, well, Stiller.

The most break-out role in the film was hands-down Jay Baruchel, who many will recognize from “Knocked Up” and “Million Dollar Baby” but who has not landed a leading role since Judd Aptow’s lesser known but just as short-lived TV series, “Undeclared”. Baruchel’s character Kevin Sandusky is very similar to Baruchel in real life: he is an actor who has gotten his first big role and is playing everything by the book, like going to the boot camp training that had been assigned and learning how to read a map, while his fellow actors just brushed everything off. As the only one with a lick of common sense, Baruchel has some definite potential and it seems like we can expect big things from him in the future.

‘Tropic Thunder’ so far has been the best comedy of 2008, and it very much deserves that title. While the movie will keep audiences laughing well into the credits, it brings about two important questions: Why hasn’t Ben Stiller written and directed more movies, and will this be Tom Cruise’s big comeback (in more than one way)?

The not-so-viral stunt that made going to see “Tropic Thunder” a must. This clip is property of MTV Networks, no copyright infringement intended.

Oh yeah, Carl makes a cameo too. See if you can spot him!

About The Author

Terri Schwartz was a Blast Contributing Editor from 2008-2009.

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