Self-serious superstar Tom Cruise pops up (nearly unrecognizably) in a supporting role in Ben Stiller's new comedy Tropic Thunder. Not much has been made of the performance in the press, but I for one think it represents a brilliant new land of opportunity for Mr. Cruise. Nothing makes a guy 'accessible' like a foul-mouthed and very funny performance in a surprisingly good comedy -- and all of those things apply here. I've always been pretty ambivalent about Tom Cruise -- I think he's an underrated actor and an overrated movie star -- but this is the first time he really "amazed" me since his shockingly raunchy (and quite excellent) performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia.

At first I didn't even recognize Cruise in the film. I'd heard it mentioned that the actor had a supporting part in the flick, but I suppose I'd forgotten about it. When Cruise's character (a sleazy studio head called Les Grossman) first appeared on-screen, I was just sure it was a character actor named Enrico Colantoni. Not only because of the shocking resemblance -- but mainly because the guy playing the studio chief is drop-dead freakin' hilarious. The fact that I mistook Tom Cruise for Enrico Colantoni is a rather large compliment -- to Tom Cruise.

Coated with a bald-cap, a fat suit, and a thicket of wiry arm hair, Cruise powers through his scenes (mostly with Bill Hader and Matthew McConaughey) with tons of vulgarity, strangeness, and dancing. Yes, dancing. Frankly we've never seen Tom Cruise let his hair down in this wacky a fashion, and I'd like to thank Ben Stiller for making it happen. (When he's just an actor, Stiller's output can be distressingly inconsistent, but as a writer / director he's simply a lot more reliable. And infinitely funnier.)

So that's the discussion point for today: What did you think of Tom Cruise's work in Tropic Thunder? I'd see the flick again just for his X-rated telephone tirades. Bonus Topic: As amusing is he is, Cruise isn't even the funniest guy in the flick. That honor would go to Robert Downey Jr., who has earned himself one stellar summer of redemption. Good for you, Rob!
categories Cinematical