Mark Wahlberg didn't know for sure who would win for best villain at the MTV Movie Awards taping Saturday on a Sony Pictures sound stage in Culver City. But, as he and George Clooney opened the envelope to make the presentation on stage, he knew which of the nominees would not win.
"The winner is obviously not Christopher Walken," Wahlberg, dressed atypically of the generally casual participants in a natty suit and tie, said of the veteran actor who co-starred in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." "This is MTV."
Indeed, Mike Myers won for his Dr. Evil character, one of three awards he picked up for "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." And Hilary Swank, whose Oscar-winning "Boys Don't Cry" gender bend was perhaps last year's most-acclaimed performance, lost out for female breakthrough to Julia Stiles for "10 Things I Hate About You."
Meanwhile, best musical performance went to a song from "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," and not the one that sneaked into the Academy Awards nominations. No, "Blame Canada" is almost "The Sound of Music" compared to this flatulence-filled ditty with a title we can't even print and, for that matter, they can't say on MTV.
Sure, Oscar best picture winner "American Beauty" was nominated for best movie here, but so was the somewhat less erudite "American Pie." And though neither won ("The Matrix" did), you had a feeling the voters' sympathies went more to the "Pie" side of the equation.
Then again, this is what you get when you let the MTV audience vote. And this is the kind of awards show where you get charming host Sarah Jessica Parker sneaking up behind Wahlberg and Clooney, as the former tried to make his point, making like she was trying to fondle their behinds.
For all their silliness, however, the MTV awards just keep attracting bigger traditional Hollywood names.
On Saturday, for a show that will debut on the cable music channel Thursday, you had George Lucas himself on stage to solemnly accept the "Golden Popcorn" statue granted "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" for best action sequence--and politely posing for snapshots with fans in the audience during taping breaks.
And you had "The Matrix" producer Joel Silver accepting the best movie honors presented by none other than Mel Gibson.
And you had Tom Cruise playing the good sport in a hilarious filmed bit with Ben Stiller as his annoying stunt double, Tom Crooze, though you have to wonder what Cruise will think when he sees the show's "South Park" meets "Gladiator" meets "Battlefield Earth" animated clip that skewers not only "Park's" ill-fated Kenny but also Scientology, featuring one of the characters using the book "Dianetics" for toilet paper.
At the MTV Awards, at least, you can have it both ways: Balance "American Pie" with "American Beauty" and take vicious swipes at Hollywood institutions while having those very institutions gladly play along.
"The intention when I started to do the show [in 1992] and as we continued was not to be accepted by the establishment, but a show for the audience reflecting their tastes and sensibilities," said Joel Gallen, the telecast's producer, during pre-production.
But now, he says, it has been accepted.
"For movies like 'The Matrix,' 'Cruel Intentions' and 'Austin Powers,' this is like the Oscars," Gallen added.
So with that you get Lucas and Clooney and Gibson and, shouting through a case of laryngitis, Nicolas Cage. But do you pay a price?
Frankly, there was a certain amount of predictability and perfunctoriness Saturday. The music performances by D'Angelo, 'N Sync and Metallica brought star power but little of the grab-you-by-the-throat razzle-dazzle that marked last year's appearances of Will Smith and Kid Rock, though that could be because the Sony sound stage seemed to offer less room to operate than the Santa Monica Airport's Barker Hangar, where it was held in recent years.
And even the onstage kiss between "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair (accepting the best kiss award for their "Cruel Intentions" tonsil hockey) came off as something everyone expected.
So, ironically, in this wall o' irreverence, Wahlberg's moment of establishment reverence was the only true moment of rebellion.
Speaking of which, during the after-show reception, Wahlberg said he meant his comment more as an observation than a criticism.
"It is what it is," he said of the show. "They're promoting things that are targeted to children. But that's great."
Later at the same reception, MTV President Judy McGrath reported that Wahlberg had actually tried to apologize to MTV executives about his remark.
"But we said, 'No, that's what we want in the show,' " she said. "We've got to have that edge."
You want edge? Invite Wahlberg and Walken to co-host next year.
Roll Out the Red Carpet
* Young Hollywood turned up heat with sexy fashions at MTV's awards show. E2