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Thunderous laughter
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From the fake trailers and advertisements preceding the opening credits to the last hilarious scenes of a booty-dancing Tom Cruise, "Tropic Thunder" is spot on with its portrayal of the absurdity that is the big Hollywood machine.

Ben Stiller, directing his first movie since 2001's "Zoolander," churns out yet another over the top examination of an industry of excess and bloated egos. Along with directing, Stiller also stars as Tugg Speedman, an action star in the vein of Sylvester Stallone who, after several box office flops, is looking for a comeback. Speedman has been cast in "Tropic Thunder," what the studio hopes will be the greatest war movie ever made.

Joining Speedman to round out the all-star cast are funnyman Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), rapper turned actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and perennial Oscar contender Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.).

 Like Speedman, each cast member has his own personal and professional issues. Portnoy is a raging heroin addict, who wants to be known for something more than his toilet humor mega hit "The Fatties," while Chino can not take a break from advertising his Booty Sweat Energy Drink long enough to actually film his scenes in the period movie.

 Lazarus is an awards season darling looking to add to his collection of little golden statues. The thespian wanted a role in the movie so badly he agreed to go through a controversial procedure to turn his skin black so he could play the key role of the black Sgt. Osiris. An extreme method actor, Lazarus inhabits Osiris so fully that he promises not to break character until he has finished recording the DVD commentary.

 Attempting to control the madness on the set is first time director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan). Only five days into filming and already a month behind the production schedule, Cockburn decides to take a different approach to filming. With the help of the film's explosive expert and technical advisor, Cockburn takes the less than thrilled actors deep into the Vietnam jungle to film the rest of the movie guerilla style. Through a series of mishaps, the actors are inadvertently pitted against a jungle dwelling heroin cartel.

 The casting of Downey alongside comedic heavyweights Stiller and Black proved to be a genius move. Downey continues to earn the title of comeback actor of the year as he steals nearly every scene he is in. There was some question as to how audience members might react to Downey in blackface, but the satire was so well done and Downey's performance so great that any fears of backlash proved to be unwarranted.

 Instead, the film has received major criticism from advocacy groups for the mentally disabled, who are offended by the film's use of the word "retard" and Stiller's portrayal of the title character in another fake movie "Simple Jack." The criticism is unfounded. Stiller is poking fun at Hollywood and the many actors who have tackled those types of roles in the past solely to win awards.

 "Thunder" has a great blend of small jokes designed to make you chuckle and large gags meant to make you laugh out loud. Most of the time, these jokes work.

 In many ways "Thunder" is a throwback to how great comedies used to be made with big stars and big laughs. Stiller, Black and Downey form a formidable comedic trio that is reminiscent of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in the 1980s. Throw in some superb cameos by A-list actors, particularly Cruise's hilarious turn as a foul-mouthed movie executive, and you've got the best spoof in years.



 "Tropic Thunder" is rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material and has a running time of 106 minutes.