I thought about it on the walk home, looking at the premise from various angles, and the conclusion I kept coming back to was that I don't think Tropic Thunder does any particular harm or good. Yes, it lampooned Hollywood and made fun of the industry everyone involved has made their careers through (and we can assume will continue to make their careers through). In that, it was very, very successful. It was very funny, and I laughed a lot, everyone in the theater I saw it in did. Thankfully, I also didn't feel stupider after watching it, like I did coming out of Step Brothers.
The "retard" thing, in the context of the movie, made sense. Which is not really a defense of Stiller's choice to include it, but for better, or worse, it was reflective of American vernacular. But everything about the characters was offensive on at least one level if not multiple, and as I am fond of laughing at myself and making a point not to take life seriously, I love that. I also don't think this film would have been a particularly effective vehicle for changing the way that word is used. As it is, what I do think the particular "storyline" around the dis/abled character Stiller's character had played served as was to poke at the discomfort abled people have with the differently abled. I also think it managed to do this rather subtly, and all things considered, surprisingly well. If one has their critical thinking hat on, I just can't see them not being struck by the concept of "the audience/Academy only likes retards who aren't actually that retarded" which is the entire point of the scene and followed up on later.
The racial issues around Downey's character did come up, as did misogyny (and homophobia) present in rap/hip hop culture (these three issues interplayed with each other in a very interesting way, which I don't really want to ruin for anyone who might see it). Were they addressed as fully as they could have been? No, I don't think so. I have a feeling Stiller was trying to be more subtle than risking coming off as "preachy," which may unfortunately lead to many people missing the true satire.
The exchanges between Downey and Jackson's characters were again surprisingly smart. As a matter of fact Jackson's character was by far the smartest, least ridiculous, and most articulate, which I found profoundly intriguing. Being as this movie is billed as satiric I have to imagine that was on purpose, and I love Ben Stiller a little bit more for it (if only he could write women...they were completely non-existent).
So, yes, I liked the movie. But, I don't think the people boycotting are humorless or over reacting, I just didn't have the same response to the material. I think I got where Stiller was going with it, and related to that. Of course, I'm white, and able bodied. Maybe I would feel differently if I weren't. I'm sure it must color my reaction somewhat, but I don't know how much. I do know the black man sitting next to me was laughing even harder than I was. Of course that's not conclusive in any way, it just kept sticking out in my mind when I thought over the evening.
Ultimately, I think Stiller set out to make fun of Hollywood, and I think he was very successful. I enjoyed myself, and it seemed like the rest of the theater did too. [Edited to add] Sarah over at Season of the Bitch put up her Saturday links and included a great post about the purpose of satire. I think it's a great thing to read with this movie in mind, because ultimately it's posing the question I kept thinking over, "was this movie successful in it's satire?" Did it "effectively challenge concepts of power, race, sex, and gender among other things"? Or, is it "closet racist and annoying hipster elitist try to use satire to reinforce their supposed superiority and avoid being called bigoted while doing it"? I don't think I can definitively answer that, but I lean more towards it's being successful.
A few other quick notes on the movie itself, for being second billed, Jack Black had a surprisingly small role which was disappointing (although on a second viewing maybe I was just so caught up in pondering the Jackson/Downey characters that I didn't realize how much he was in it)... I was fairly certain while watching that Matthew McConaughey's character was the one Owen Wilson was originally scripted to play. I googled, and that was confirmed. I think Wilson would have done the character quite differently, and I found myself wondering how that would have changed things, but McConaughey was good. And last because he's awesome, Tobey Maguire has one of the best cameo's I've seen in a long fucking time.
OK, I can't resist, did anyone else catch this?: