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If Tom Cruise Has Braces on His Teeth, You Know It's a Carnival

July 07, 2002|MARK EHRMAN

Invited to: "Target a Time for Heroes," a celebrity carnival to benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, at a private residence in Mandeville Canyon.

Kid friendly, star-mom approved: "I do a lot of fund-raisers for a lot of causes, but this is the one I can actually bring my kids to," says Christine Lahti, actress, director and mother of three. "They like it because there's no rubber chicken." Ah, but there is. The rubber chicken presence is scarce, granted, at the multifarious buffets (everyone from Campanile to Pink's representing), but Jennifer Love Hewitt is holding an armload at one of the carny game booths. "It's called 'Flip-A-Chick,' " she explains, while helping a line of kids catapult said rubber poultry into a hole. Shuttle bus upon shuttle bus discharge more than 1,500 guests (the "Heroes" of the party's title) onto the ample grounds at $1,000 a head, $250 for kids--a cool $2 million for the cause once you factor in corporate underwriting. And thanks to liberal game rules, prize tickets are easy to come by, so many of the small fry (and more than a few not-such-spring-chickens) are happily lugging oversized FAO Schwartz bags by the time they leave.

Where the wild things are: "The fact that they're bringing a whole ramp onto a private-residence tennis court is amazing," says Tony Hawk, presiding over the party's extreme skateboard/inline/BMX zone. As the star of his own video game, the pro skateboarder and his corkscrew maneuvers generate more excitement with the junior contingent than Hollywood's top movie draws, many of whom put in a shift at the story tent. "A Beautiful Mind's" Jennifer Connelly reads from "The Lorax," and sometime starship captain Patrick Stewart reads from "Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type." A newly orthodontured Tom Cruise tries to hold the kiddies rapt with readings from "Where the Wild Things Are" and "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," while that other Cruz --Penelope--looks on. "I'm losing my audience," he mock-frets, though, needless to say, the adult children (media included) hang onto every word. "Has he left the premises? Beat it, Cruise," cracks "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Ray Romano, next in the storyteller's chair with on-screen wife Patricia Heaton. They will endeavor to captivate the children with the tale of "Rosie and Roger" once the Tom-and-Penelope hubbub subsides.

Celeb Quotient ***

Prime-time stars out during the day sure beat daytime stars out at night.

Wow Factor ***

A dunking of the B-list personalities, a life-size game of Operation, an extreme-sports clinic and a mini-set by boy band LMNT keep the little ones occupied while offering parents the luxury of doing nothing.

Grazing Level ****

Not just kiddie-menu fare a la burgers, beans and Ben & Jerry's, but also brie and papaya quesadillas, seared red ahi in a double dijon vinaigrette, porcini mushroom ravioli and enough vins (rouge et blanc) to get the more mature palates excited.

Rating Scale

*=ho-hum ****=yowza

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