I'm going to start this review with what I liked about the movie, and then go on to address my concerns and the concerns of the masses about the film. I figure that way, by the end, you won't hate me anymore for liking this movie.
Baruchel, Jackson, Stiller, Downey Jr, Black, and Coogan in Tropic Thunder
Ben Stiller's newest "dumb, self-absorbed guy gets his comeuppance and a new perspective of the world" movie lives up to its explosion-filled, racially-charged, Hollywood-parodying trailer. The action is fun, the comedy is hilarious and the characters are fun and hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed the jibes at Hollywood icons and stereotypes.
Ben Stiller as Tugg Speedman, the star of Scorcher films 1 through 5, hits the Sylvester-Stallone-nail right on the muscly, has-been head.
Jack Black is incredibly enjoyable as Jeff Portnoy, the fart-humor famous comedian with a vicious heroin addiction. He reminded me of a blond, white Eddie Murphy, if you can imagine that.
Robert Downey Jr is the funniest of the lot as Australian actor, Kirk Lazarus, playing an African American sergeant, who never breaks character in his attempt to take his acting so seriously that he literally becomes the character. His over-the-top portrayal is exactly what I would imagine the whitest man on earth would do to try to be black. Thus, rather than making fun of African-Americans, Downey Jr's character serves to make fun of whites who wish they were black.
Brandon T. Jackson is brilliant as the rapper-turned-actor, Alpa Chino (a name that confused me through much of the movie). Although he is initially introduced via an extremely explicit commercial for his products "Booty Sweat Energy Drink" and "Bust-A-Nut Bars", Alpa ends up to be one of the most endearing characters, in my opinion. He plays one of the only arguably sane characters in the movie, in fact. (If you dare - Caution: may contain explicit material: http://www.bootysweat.com/)
Jay Baruchel (you may remember him from Knocked Up) plays the geeky Kevin Sandusky, the only actor who went to training, the only one who read the script and the only one nobody remembers. As a lover of geeks, he was one of my favorites.
Steve Coogan is the Brit (who looks familiar but I don't know why) who plays the crazy, in-over-his-head director of Tropic Thunder, Damien Cockburn. Being a newbie filmmaker myself, I found this plunderous, crazed character funny and relatable, even though he is not in the film for long.
Matthew McConaughey is unusually good as Rick Peck, Tugg Speedman's agent and friend. His was my favorite Hollywood stereotype, the greedy agent who would do anything to get his clients' contracts upheld, no matter what.
And finally, Tom Cruise was the most surprising actor in this film, playing the fat, balding, extremely vulgar producer, Les Grossman. Personally, I think this was a brilliant move for Cruise's career because he completely broke away from his recent weirdness to play this role. He broke so far away that I spent most of the film trying to figure out if it was, in fact, him. Although he is a bit too vulgar at times, I still loved this character and loved even more that it was Tom Cruise playing it.
Overall, the film was extremely over-the-top, but balanced itself well with more down-to-earth moments between characters and within characters. Although it was most definitely an action movie, Tropic Thunder had many scenes where the characters were the main focus, and those were generally my favorites. I admit to enjoying the cheesiness of the growing friendship between Tugg Speedman and Kirk Lazarus, as well as Jeff Portnoy's struggle with his drug addiction (neither of which took themselves seriously).
After seeing the movie, I still stand by my original insistence that Stiller and Downey Jr meant no harm in their use of modern day "black face". As I explained to a friend in one argument we had over the film, I believe the point of having a white actor play a black character had nothing to due with race and everything to do with self-important actors who take their roles far too literally. I'm sorry if I offend anyone with my opinion, but there it is and there it stands. The main problem I had with Tropic Thunder was not with Downey Jr's white man playing a black man, but Stiller's character Tugg Speedman's previous film "Simple Jack" about a mentally challenged farm hand. Some things are okay to make fun of, even in over the top ways. One thing that's not okay to make fun of is the mentally challenged. At least not in the way it was presented in this movie. While Downey Jr's character was balanced with the presence of Jackson, a real black man who raised the issues that Downey Jr was creating, Stiller's representation of "Simple Jack" was completely unchallenged. As Kirk Lazarus tells Tugg Speedman in the film "Never go full retard."
I recommend this film to most people, but it's definitely not for everyone.