This is one movie I had on my calendar for a long time, its concept was just so promising the cast so amazing on paper. And it didn't disappoint me, so much as go in a different direction. First things first, this isn’t a spoof, which is refreshing, rather it's a rare American satire.
The difference is important, a spoof just mocks the form, its types, generic plot points, etc. This is one of the more brutal satires of Hollywood I’ve seen. It’s not up to artistic par with The Player or Day for Night, but then again it doesn’t want to be.
I also found interesting that Stiller throws in a number of jokes that only someone familiar with the film world, or the filmmaking process would, get, and those little touches show that this film came from a very real place. For instance, when the egomaniacal producer (Tom Cruise) is chewing first-time director Steve Coogan out via conference call (think Mark Wahlberg in The Departed), Cruise gets the Key Grip to punch him in the face for him. Because everyone who’s been on a film set knows that the Key Grip is the last person on a film set you want to have a physical confrontation with, the mix of heavy lifting, waiting, and resentment and/or craziness makes for a discomforting outcome. And Tom Cruise, who is no doubt getting some things off his chest here, is obviously putting in some elements of various studio types he’s worked with.
The film is also surprisingly and rather commendably savage at ridiculing actors, all kinds of actors, and their methods, and comes to a rather bleak but necessary conclusion about their roles and identity’s.
This is not a consistently funny film, but it pays off in its surprises so I don’t want to give away too much here. It works decently as an action film, as a comedy, as a satire, and at times decently as a character driven film, but like Stiller’s Zoolander, it works better in pieces than it does as a whole film, and at times some of the film comes across rather unpleasant instead of funny.
The acting however, is top notch, even when the film is struggling in pace or tone. Stiller’s better than he’s been, Jay Baruchel is good, and Robert Downey, jr. may deserve an Oscar nod for this in some strange way playing a cross between Russell Crowe and Daniel Day Lewis playing a stereotypical 1970’s African-American man. And Danny McBride, who plays the effects guy, may be my new favorite member of the Frat Pack. But its Jack Black, playing a cross between Eddie Murphy, Chris Farley, and in some dark places himself, who gives probably the best performance of his career.
All that said I’d wait for the dollar-theater or DVD. I wouldn’t frag the thing, but I wouldn’t be in any hurry to get to the chopper either.