Want to know how much the MTV Movie Awards means to Hollywood? When Disney, the studio releasing Kirsten Dunst's new movie, heard that the young actress was co-hosting this year's awards, it moved Dunst's teen drama, "Crazy/Beautiful," up a month to take advantage of her exposure on the show, which taped Saturday night at the Shrine Auditorium and will air Thursday on MTV.
Now in its 10th year, the MTV Movie Awards, which Robin Williams once described as "the Golden Globes on acid," is easily the sassiest awards show on TV--where else could you see Sarah Jessica Parker, last year's hostess, introduce a pair of hip young actors by saying "they're so hot you could fry an egg on their flat little [bottoms]." But the show also is an indispensable marketing vehicle for studios with youth-oriented summer movies. The show, which got a whopping 17.5 share of 12-to-34-year-old viewers last year, outperforming any network show in its time slot, is a pitchman's dream. It's perhaps the finest distillation of MTV's ingenious ability to lampoon and hype pop culture simultaneously.
At Oscar time, studios spend millions in advertising trying to score a statuette. But at these movie awards, where categories range from best movie to best kiss to best villain, the real coup isn't winning, it's getting the star of your summer movie on camera as a presenter. On the Oscars it would be considered tacky to plug your own film. On MTV, the plugs are practically engraved on the teleprompter: When Samuel L. Jackson appeared last year as a presenter, he wore a "Shaft" hat and offered a shameless two-minute blurb for his film.
So it's no coincidence that Dunst, Rob Schneider and Snoop Dogg, who appear in this year's opening "Mummy Returns" parody sketch, all star in movies opening this month: Dunst in "Crazy/Beautiful," which opens June 29; Schneider in "The Animal," which opened Friday; and Dogg, who's in "Baby Boy," which opens June 27.
When Disney heard Dunst would be co-hosting the show with "Saturday Night Live" comic Jimmy Fallon, it jumped on the closest possible release date to the awards. "For us it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect our film with the MTV audience, which is basically the exact audience we're going after for the film," says Disney marketing chief Oren Aviv. "It's a great implied endorsement of the film, because if MTV, which keeps such a close eye on what's hot in pop culture, picks the star of your movie, it means your star matters to their audience."
In Hollywood, the show matters so much that Creative Artists Agency and Endeavor, two of the town's top talent agencies, had dueling parties over the weekend to bask in the show's reflected glory. The lobbying for presenters' slots on the show starts early: MTV President Van Toffler says he's been getting calls for the past two months from studios touting their talent.
"I don't think beg would be too strong a word," says Universal publicity chief Terry Curtin. "Being a presenter is a great plug for your film and if they spoof your movie, it's as good as any 30-second TV spot." In addition to reaching the young audience, the show is valuable to studio marketers because by early June, with prime-time shows in reruns, there's little original programming on network TV.
Presenters on this year's show include "The Mummy Returns' " Brendan Fraser and the Rock, a trio of actresses from "American Pie 2," "Rush Hour 2's" Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, "Scary Movie 2's" Marlon and Shawn Wayans, and John Travolta, Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman, who star in "Swordfish" opening Friday. "Moulin Rouge" also gets a big plug from Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink, who perform "Lady Marmalade," the hit song from the film's soundtrack album.
MTV supports the show with a blizzard of promotional spots that it often uses to cross-promote movies made by its own film division. Last year the network ran 30-second spots touting the awards show featuring the four black comedians from "The Original Kings of Comedy," an MTV Films release that opened in August. The spots captured the irreverence of the awards (in one spot, D.L. Hughley quipped: "The worst kiss is pretty much Whoopi Goldberg and anybody") but also introduced the "Kings" to MTV's audience, who helped make the film a surprise hit when it reached theaters two months later.
Still, the awards wouldn't carry such weight if it didn't deliver such an engaging mixture of clunky spontaneity and outrageous behavior. Most of the young actors are hopelessly adrift without a script: When a tongue-tied Keanu Reeves ran out of things to say in his acceptance speech one year, Ice Cube advised him: "Thank your mama."