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Cannes Report

A Pair of Cannes-Do Guys

They seem a little out of place at this cinema carnival: One just wants to party; the other, in his first visit, is promoting an indie movie in which he stars.


CANNES, France — Hugh M. Hefner was on the deck of his rented 176-foot yacht, sipping Jack Daniels and cola and surveying the scene: a smashing party of 80 guests--among them actors Jeff Goldblum (a Cannes Film Festival juror) and Mario Van Peebles--who ate caviar, gulped fine champagne and frolicked with a stunning array of women, several who had appeared in the pages of Hefner's magazine, Playboy.

The night was cool, which was probably good, since many of the female revelers looked as if certain parts of their anatomy might melt if exposed to extreme heat. Draped around the 73-year-old Hefner were his four girlfriends, three of whose names rhyme--Brande, Sandy and Mandy (21-year-old twins) and Jessica.

Meanwhile, a short stroll down the Croissette from the Old Port, another American icon was holding court, but instead of Bunnies, William Shatner was surrounded by Trekkies. Like Hefner, the man better known since 1966 as Starfleet commander Capt. James T. Kirk carries himself like a ladies' man (though it's been a few years since Shatner, 66, bedded an alien seductress on "Star Trek"). Here, though, he was wooing not women but film distributors, promoting a low-budget film in which he plays one of his most challenging roles ever: himself.

That this duo--the one with the world's most recognized single-syllable nickname and the other one, who used to save the galaxy from Klingons--would both be here during the 52nd annual film festival may seem, at first, odd. But Cannes in May is rife with such juxtapositions. When this city celebrates cinema, it also creates its own surreal theater.

Over and above the thousands of people who come here each year to take part in the official festivals or the frenzied behind-the-scenes dealings, hundreds more flock to the Cote d'Azur to take part in the surrounding scene. Would-be starlets stroll topless down the crowded beaches. Normal people turn out to ogle the rich and famous. And the rich and famous (along with the formerly famous and even some not so famous) turn out, sometimes, to try to ensure that they'll keep their place in the spotlight.

Why else would Michael Flatley, the clog-donning, headband-wearing creator of the popular revue "Lord of the Dance," be here? Or comedian Pauly Shore, who claims to be making a documentary about his trip?

But for sheer camp, there's no beating two 'ners, as in Shat and Hef. Shatner, at least, is here to work, promoting Regent Entertainment's "Free Enterprise," a comedy about two rabid "Star Trek" fans (Eric McCormack of TV's "Will & Grace" and Robert Weigel) who idolize Shatner until they meet him. International distribution rights for the film, which will be released in Los Angeles on June 4, are for sale here. (Coincidentally, "Trekkies," a documentary released by Paramount about rabid "Star Trek" fans, opens today.)

"I am part of the bait. They're trolling me," Shatner said good-humoredly of the job that gave him the excuse to attend the Cannes festival for the first time. Sipping an espresso at a beach cafe, he compared the experience to that of "an actor finally going to the Oscars. I'm enthralled."

Hefner, by contrast, doesn't seem to feel he needs an excuse to come to Cannes. Unless you count the fact that 1999 is the Year of the Rabbit and that, as Hefner puts it, "my dreams come from the movies--'Tarzan and His Mate' had a major influence on me," he recalls--Hefner has absolutely no reason to be here.

"As good as my life may appear from outside, I have to tell you very honestly, it's better," he said at a press conference where he introduced his five traveling companions: Heather Kozar, Playboy's Playmate of the Year, and his four girlfriends.

When asked the obvious question--"Do you use Viagra?"--the septuagenarian grinned. "Viagra? They wouldn't be in business without me."

Only as an afterthought did Hefner reveal something that is actually connected to real Hollywood news: Within a few weeks, if final negotiations go as he expects, Playboy's founder will likely announce plans for a feature film about his life.

No such plans are underway to chronicle Shatner's life, but the actor admits that "Free Enterprise" does capture some real aspects of his existence. Like when "Star Trek" fans seek him out, hoping that, like Capt. Kirk, he can help solve any problem. Shatner would like to go on the record to clear this up: He can't. And he says he urged the film's writers, Mark A. Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett, to emphasize that.

"They'd written [an early] script in which William Shatner answered all their needs. It was too worshiping: Shatner as God. I wouldn't do it," said Shatner, who insisted that his character be mortal. The writers complied, and then some: Shatner plays a boozy, inept womanizer whose proudest moment is when he performs a rap song with Rated R, a former associate of Tupac Shakur.

Regent Entertainment, which produced the Oscar-winning "Gods and Monsters" and is releasing "Free Enterprise" in the U.S., hopes the movie will get a boost from the frenzy over "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace." It plans to distribute 10,000 "Free Enterprise Survival Kits" to people waiting in line for the "Star Wars" prequel--goodie bags stocked with items that are featured in the film, from MAC lipstick to Evian water.

But they know that Shatner is their biggest draw. And so does he.

"How someone is successful in selling something that is not driven by a $20-million star, I don't know," he admitted. "All I do know is that I and many people like me have striven for years to put together independent films. And I'm now in one done by two young men who've never done it before. It's kind of humiliating and disconcerting at the same time."

Hey, it got him to Cannes, right?

"It's an ironic twist," he said. "And I see it, totally."

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