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TROPIC THUNDER'S OTHER SURPRISES

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Photo by Gramercy Pictures/Courtesy of Everett Collection

The most buzzed-about aspect of the bold comedy Tropic Thunder is Robert Downey Jr.'s doing blackface—and actually making it work. But while Downey successfully crosses racial lines in this movie-within-a-movie—portraying an Oscar-winning Aussie actor who undergoes "pigmentation alteration" for a Vietnam War action flick—Thunder manages something even more unlikely: It makes you appreciate its cast of tiresome costars. As a vapid action hero, Ben Stiller relishes his character's emotional limitations with quizzical, Zoolander-style self-reflection. Jack Black, playing a smack-addicted comedian who trades in flatulence humor, shows pathos through the cold sweats of withdrawal. Matthew McConaughey, as a gum-chewing Hollywood agent, swaps his prepackaged rom-com charm for irresistible insecurity. And Tom Cruise, in the role of a hirsute, hip-hop-loving studio honcho, displays a sense of humor that may make you want to jump on a couch and proclaim your affection for him. Implausible as that may sound, remember: Anything is possible in a movie that can make the cringe-worthy art of blackface enjoyable. Erica Cerulo



The trailer for Tropic Thunder


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