Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr

Gregg DeGuire / Getty Images , Steve Granitz/Getty Images

Plenty of protesters outside the Tropic Thunder premiere in Westwood, imploring onlookers to “ban the movie, ban the word!” So boring, but look, the word they were referring to was the r-word (as in retarded), which is spoken in the combat comedy and acted out by Ben Stiller’s character in a flick within a flick. The dude’s desperate for some Oscar gold and thinks pulling a Forrest Gump is the way to go. Thunder’s troops built up bushes and played loud music so the protesters couldn’t be seen or heard by the press or their stars’ pretty ears and eyes. It was, let's be honest here, really retarded.

Career-challenged Tom Cruise was playing nice with Katie on the carpet, once the duo showed up at the last possible mo. But get this: The Cruisers were as subdued as they get—posing for pics and handing out handshakes in the fan section, ‘course. But there was none of that Batman Begins BS they’ve been pulling for the last two years, milking every flash that goes off no matter how uninvolved in the movie they actually are. T.C. finally caught on that he’s just a cameo, not the bright, shining star of the whole he-bang, and kept his hysterics in check. Best sign of a comeback we've seen so far—forget the fab word he’s getting for T2.

We shot the ess around with reality-show power producer Nigel Lythgoe, who knows a thing or two about big egos behind the scenes. “Any time you can send yourself up and be self-deprecating, I think it’s a good thing," he said. "When you are as big as the Tom Cruises and David Beckhams and the Brad Pitts of this world, you can basically get away with doing anything. And sometimes it’s better a small cameo role than doing a big part.”

Also, we’re still waiting for Simon Cowell to adopt a sense of humor about himself. Maybe that’s the big surprise of season eight? So, Nigey, what’s a tee-vee prod like you doing at this cinema shindig, anyway? “Three of my dancers are in it—guys called Jack Black, Ben Stiller, and Robert Downey Jr. They were my pips!” N.L., ‘course, is referring to the three amigos appearing in a black 'n' white vid on the American Idol finale, grooving behind Gladys Knight. Shilling out Tropic Thunder, sure, but their three-minute vid was infinitely more endurable than Mike MyersLove Guru girlie guy. RDJ was actually the most hetero hot piece of tail we saw all night—man’s coming back to life in H'wood like T.C. should be. Take notes, you old Beverly Hills goat!

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