Let’s get this on the table early: I am not a Ben Stiller guy. I haven’t been for a while, probably since “The Royal Tenenbaums”, although I also liked “Starsky & Hutch”. I realize you don’t care, but in the interest of full disclosure I felt it best to mention it. I bailed on the guy not only because he started to play Ben Stiller (or what we believe to be Ben Stiller) in every film, but I’ve also heard a few stories regarding his treatment of people in general. There’s a beauty floating around out there about an employee of Stiller’s being on vacation, then receiving a phone call from a two-thousand mile away Stiller calling him and demanding that he find him some cole slaw “THIS FUCKING MINUTE WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE ON VACATION WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT COLE SLAW COLE SLAW COLE SLAW NOW!!!!!” If you’re a fan of Ricky Gervais, check out Stiller’s appearance on “Extras”, as I’ve heard it’s a lot more true to life than you’d think. That said, “Tropic Thunder”, inches me back to the Stiller camp, if only a little bit. “Thunder” is about a crew of spoiled, petulant actors wreaking havoc on a hapless director (Steve Coogan) as he tries to shoot the true-life Vietnam experiences of a burned-out whack job (Nick Nolte). Stiller is Tugg Speedman, a Stallone-like action hero trying to reinvent himself as a “real” actor. Joining Speedman in terrorizing Coogan is Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), a multiple-Oscar winner who’s none too thrilled with having to help this lunkhead emote. Jack Black is along for the ride as Jeff Portnoy, an actor best known for farting while encased in fat suits; I say along for the ride because that’s what it feels like. Black isn’t given much of anything to do in “Tropic Thunder”, other than yell and act screwy…which is exactly the kind of thing his character Portnoy would be doing in his movies within the movie. So I guess you could say Black played Portnoy by taking a role that required him to BECOME Portnoy. Did I just blow your mind right there? I think I did. As you can tell, there’s a lot going on in this movie; the first ten minutes of the film had me thinking that I’d owe Stiller an apology for pigeonholing him for the last few years. I don’t want to give it away, but I’ll tell you that you learn everything you need to know about who these guys are in that opening few minutes. Brilliantly funny, concise, and unfortunately, the funniest thing in the movie. Not that there aren’t a lot of other funny moments, but the first ten minutes set the bar so high that you spend a lot of the rest of the time waiting for a payoff that doesn’t happen. Lots of movie in-jokes: Stiller affects the Dafoe pose from “Platoon” a few times, Nolte has a killer “Jaws” homage, Jay Baruchel does a nice job playing a rookie actor playing the rookie member of the platoon, and Danny McBride is terrific as the special-effects guy with a hard on for destruction. However, this film belongs to two guys in particular, one you’d expect, and one you don’t. Robert Downey Jr is amazing in this movie…hell, in EVERY movie. He is so locked in that you believe everything he says and does; he’s so good with comedy, crushing line after line. His discussion with Stiller/Speedman about how you never go “full retard” if you want an Oscar is genius…and let’s deal with that storyline for a second. If you are protesting this movie for the “retard” stuff, or for Downey Jr. in blackface, just kill yourself. In fact, hire a retard in blackface to pet you to death, because that’s the sort of long, drawn out demise you deserve, you no-sense-of-humor-having goof. This movie is a satire of stupid, spoiled Hollywood celebrities, and if you can’t see that you’re just as narcissistic and foolish as the people being parodied. Go do some good for somebody for Christ’s sake; your self-importance makes my eyes rain. The other knockout performance is from Tom Cruise, doing his best to channel his inner Joel Silver. Cruise plays Les Grossman, a balding, fat-fingered pig of a man who doesn’t give a flying fuck about anyone or anything but money, money and more money…oh, and Diet Coke. Everything out of Cruise’s mouth made me laugh. Hey, remember when I said the first ten minutes was the funniest thing in the movie? Scratch that; Cruise’s phone negotiation scene made me laugh harder than anything else. Oh, and if you couldn’t tell, I’m as much a Cruise guy as I’m not a Stiller guy. Is Cruise a fucking nut? Yeah, but the level of intensity the guy brings to everything he does makes me wonder if my lazy ass wouldn’t benefit from being hooked up to an E-Meter for a while. Who gives a fuck what religion the guy is? He can jump on as many couches as he wants if he keeps giving performances like the ones in this movie or “Collateral”. The only thing we have to be pissed at him for is the ruining of Katie Holmes, but even that has a silver lining: his Stepfording of Katie has insured we never have to watch her “act” again…well, except for watching her act like she’s happy these days. And she’s just as bad in that role as she’s been in all the others. So, am I back on board with Stiller? Yes, with one caveat: that he has Robert Downey Jr. involved in every one of his projects going forward. “A Night At The Museum II”? Downey Jr. is an eccentric English curator desperate to learn the museum’s secret. “There’s Still Something About Mary”? Downey Jr. plays Cameron Diaz’s other retarded brother, just to give protestors something to do. “Meet The Fockers Again”? Downey Jr. is Deniro’s protégé from the Agency…wait, forget that one. There are some things even Robert Downey Jr. can’t save.