Tropic Thunder: *** ( 3 STARS) See it now, because unlike the year's other big-star farces, this parody of Vietnam War movies plays better on the big screen. At its best it offers dizzying burlesques of the pretensions and excesses of runaway filmmaking. When director-star Ben Stiller rockets into manic reflections of real 'Nam epics like Apocalypse Now, he displays gifts for frenzy and hyperbole straight out of vintage Mad magazines. No one in the cast is more daring than Robert Downey Jr. as a Russell Crowe-like actor assuming the role of an African-American soldier.
opening next friday
An American Carol : (Vivendi Entertainment) This twist on Charles Dickens' classic features three spirits that give an anti-American filmmaker a lesson in U.S. values. With Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper.
Appaloosa: (Warner Bros.) A Western about a sheriff and deputy squaring off against a powerful rancher. With Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger and Ed Harris.
Beverly Hill Chihuahua : (Walt Disney Pictures) A pampered dog (voiced by Drew Barrymore) is inadvertently left on her own in Mexico. With Piper Perabo, Jamie Lee Curtis and the voices of Andy Garcia and George Lopez.
Blindness : (Miramax Films) A mysterious plague of sightlessness besets a city. With Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal and Mark Ruffalo.
Flash of Genius: (Universal Pictures) A Detroit college professor and engineer battles the automobile industry for recognition of his invention of the intermittent windshield wiper system. With Greg Kinnear and Lauren Graham.
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People : (MGM) A British writer struggles to fit in at a high-profile magazine in New York. With Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson and Jeff Bridges.
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist : (Screen Gems) United by their taste in music but otherwise ill-matched, a young man and woman embark on a sleepless night in search of a band's secret show. With Michael Cera and Kat Dennings.
Religulous: (Lionsgate) Comedian Bill Maher teams with Borat director Larry Charles for this provocative, globe-trotting exploration of God and religion.
Release dates are subject to change.