Though it’s not the home run I wanted it to be, Tropic Thunder is easily one of the best comedies of the last decade. The cast is astounding, and Ben Stiller (who directed and starred in the film) got everyone in the cast to mercilessly mock their own public personas either through thinly veiled self-parody (Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Nick Nolte), doing something so outrageously against the normal grain of their career (Tom Crusie’s unrecognizable bald, pot-bellied studio executive), or by handing Robert Downey Jr. the keys to the greatest comedic character of this century: Kirk Lazarus/Sgt. Lincoln Osiris.
I included the trailer, because I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder at a trailer or been more happy with the concept of a movie in my life as when I saw Tropic Thunder’s trailer for the first time. It took about 30 seconds before I had any idea what was going on, and the trailer does a better job of explaining the movie than I could concisely, so I would watch that if you’re unfamiliar with the film, because I’m going to spend the rest of this space talking about Robert Downey Jr.’s greatest performance. Not Chaplin. Not Tony Stark. No. Nothing compares to Osiris for which Downey deservedly received an Oscar nomination, which is almost impossible to do in a comedic role. Especially one that could have gone SO SO wrong.
First off, obviously, Downey is playing an African-American character. Moreover, he’s playing an Australian method actor named Kirk Lazarus who is famous for fully immersing himself into his roles. For this role, he’s surgically had his skin darkened and does not break character. Ever. Not until the DVD commentary wraps. While the rest of his troupe of actors slowly realizes that they’re not shooting a movie via full immersion, but are-in fact-crawling through hostile jungle terrain armed with live ammunition, Osiris barks out orders, grunts, chews his cigar, and takes umbrage to any possible insult to African-Americans (which makes the cast’s REAL African-American absolutely bugnuts insane). The scene I picked is when Lazarus’ past immersion identities go at war with each other and ….he kind of has a psychotic break. It contains Osiris’ signature line: “I KNOW WHO I AM! I’M A DUDE PLAYING A DUDE DISGUISED AS ANOTHER DUDE!!!” Btw, if you’ve never watched Tropic Thunder with the actor’s commentary, Downey is indeed in character as Osiris until the end credits, pretty much destroying the focus of the other actors in the room. It’s probably the greatest DVD/Blu Ray commentary of all-time. In fact, I will make the claim that it is.