Hollywood Product - Tropic Thunder

War spoof works but slows toward end

GENRE: Epic action-comedy skewering epic war movies and the making of epic war movies

THE PITCH: A Hollywood cast and crew (including Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel) on location for a Vietnam War movie gets plopped into real danger thanks to some studio shenanigans. Struggling star Tugg Speedman (Stiller), desperate for a hit, takes a little too long to realize those are real bullets coming at him.

MONEY SHOTS: Baruchel literally spills his guts in the first scene (what was that, Italian sausage?). Stiller's recreation of the Willem Dafoe death scene in Platoon comes gift-wrapped in that hilarious Christ-figure pose.

I'M NOT RACIST, BUT: There's a running joke of Downey playing an Australian method actor playing an African-American character who can't seem to get out of character. Two saving graces: Downey's own meta-method tapping into the character's comic possibilities, and Jackson's rapper/actor constantly calling the white/black actor on his bullshit.

BEST LINES: Nick Nolte as a Vietnam War vet speaks mystically about what kind of heat he's packing: "I don't know what kind of gun it is. I just know the sound it makes when it takes a man's life." Downey, messing with Stiller's insecure head, says, "Right now you're like one of those kids on the playground with lice that nobody wants to play with."

HIT SINGLE: Plenty of '60s music helps establish the period mood, including the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," CCR's "Run Through the Jungle" and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." But the Crystal Method's remix of its "The Name of the Game" had the audience grooving the most.

BODY COUNT: In the first scene it looks like a good six to 10 get wiped out in the heat of battle until a director (a horribly short-lived Steve Coogan) yells "cut." The crew's literally shooting blanks, however, so everyone's safe.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT: A much-needed iPod (playing a "Star Trek" episode, no less), a much-discussed TiVo and a much-drunk Diet Coke (by an almost unrecognizable Tom Cruise as a Hollywood mogul). Jackson's Alpa Chino (get it?) constantly pimps his fictitious power drink "Booty Sweat."

DON'T TELL ZOO ATLANTA: Stiller's character does something with a panda that not only goes against his character's animal-rights reputation, but would traumatize Mei Lan.

BOTTOM LINE: Stiller's script, co-written with Justin Theroux and Idiocracy screenwriter Etan Cohen, delivers spot-on jokes about Hollywood and war-movie clichés, and with comedic talents such as Downey, Black and surprising scene-stealer Baruchel, there's enough hammy fun to last a while. But Stiller's grating dullard character wears thin fast, and the drawn-out conclusion robs the comedy of its zip. Like any unwarranted invasion, Tropic Thunder starts off with some ass-kicking action but gets bogged down in a quagmire.