The great summer comedy

Ben Stiller was a master satirist who called out Hollywood’s fatuousness — until he became an example of it, playing the improbably heroic nebbish in every mediocre romantic comedy made this decade. But in Tropic Thunder (opening 8/13), his first directorial effort since Zoolander in 2001, he’s redeemed himself with a farcically funny big-budget movie about the awfulness of big-budget movies.

Nominally, Tropic Thunder is about the many, many ways that the making of a Vietnam War movie goes wrong. But it’s really about how show business enables and encourages the worst in its stars, including a portly comedian with a drug habit (Jack Black), an Australian Method actor (Robert Downey Jr.) who undergoes a re-pigmentation process to play a black soldier, and a fading, Tom Cruise–like action star (Stiller) in desperate need of credibility. How much does Hollywood love to be told it sucks? Watch for Cruise himself, in a bald cap and fat suit, stealing the show as a villainous, vulgar studio executive.

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