Tom Cruise may initally steal Robert Downey Jr’s thunder, but there’s no question it’s Downey who gives this hilarious satire its biggest bang for your buck.
Writer/director/star Ben Stiller brings Jack Black and Downey along for the ride as his costars of the movie within the movie, plopped down in the jungle for a Vietnam-era action flick. We know from the opening ‘previews” (a nifty trick to establish back history and reputation of said stars) Stiller’s the blow ‘em upper who really wants to just be taken seriously; Black’s the fat fart guy while Downey, on the other hand, is the extremely serious Australian actor, known for his many Oscars and staying in character until the DVD outtakes have been shot. Naturally, their styles don’t mesh, but somehow, it all comes together when the trio finds themselves stranded, facing a lethal compound of heroin dealers.
Nods to previous films aside, Thunder relies on slaps at actors’ egos and lots of explosions to keep us in its grip. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The action is ok, the jokes about Hollywood aren’t particularly new, but they’re pretty darn funny all the same. And Stiller is generous with his actors: Nick Nolte and Matthew McConaughey give their most on target performances in years; Cruise gets a lot of mileage from his puffed up studio chief, all bluster, venom and dancing spit. But I can’t forget Downey’s chancy and downright amazing performance as the Aussie in blackface. Nailing the many perspectives of this complicated character, Downey gives this otherwise pretty good comedy true, hilarious power.