The best type of comedy, which rarely come along in Hollywood films, is that which mixes well-written jokes with a dose of improv and genuinely funny actors. “Tropic Thunder” manages all this, easily, with a near-perfect script of comedic marks nailed by a stellar cast of actors who effortlessly hit, riff and romp with perfect timing.
The film follows a group of actors in an epic war movie running behind, thanks to the ineptitude of an inexperienced director (Steve Coogan) who can’t corral his pampered cast: Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), an action movie star; Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a cocaine-addled actor attempting a serious role; and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), an Australian Method actor known for immersing himself deeply into his roles. Lazarus is so intent on delivering a genuine performance, he undergoes a controversial surgery to alter his skin color to portray the black sergeant.
“Tropic Thunder” is a thunderously effective comedy. The jokes and gags are well-written, timed perfectly and served highly by director Stiller, who coaxes brisk delivery out of each script line, and leaves the camera rolling long enough to absorb the beautiful unsaid awkwardness great comedic actors often leave between bits.
The real “Thunder” is Downey, who dials in an Oscar-worthy comedy performance that exceeds the film’s hype. Delivering what is essentially a modern blackface act, he pulls off a hilarious performance that is over-the-top and edgy, but executed with a delicate deftness that keeps it from being horribly offensive. It’s been said, but bears repeating: Only Downey could pull it off.