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Between mania and manifesto

The MTV awards show is a business-as-usual mix of politics and tasteless high jinks.

June 07, 2004|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Beavis and Bill Clinton, "Jackass" and Rock the Vote -- the MTV memory scrapbook has endearing pages devoted to all of them because, well, an 18-year-old's attention can veer from body odor to the body politic in the blink of a text message. And on Saturday night, at the taping of the 2004 MTV Movie Awards, the politics of the day repeatedly made it on stage, but every one was matched by a dozen or more moments that would make Butt- head proud.

Was the peace sign flashed by Eminem his comment on world events, or was it his proud and extended mooning of the audience? Was Ice Cube any less sincere when he counseled nonviolence and conflict resolution than when he lauded the qualities of "young white MTV" women but decided to replace the word "women" with a certain anatomical term you won't hear when the show airs on Thursday? The deftest execution of partying politics was Jack Black, who somersaulted on stage to receive an award and chomped off the microphone in a very Ozzy sort of way, all while wearing a "Vote John Kerry" shirt.

The oddest and most notable intrusion of the political world was a taped message from filmmaker Michael Moore that was presented with little explanation. "I don't usually get on awards shows anymore, " Moore said, referring to the dust-up he caused by lashing out at President Bush at the Academy Awards last year. Moore's new film, "Fahrenheit 9/11," hasn't been seen by U.S. audiences, but it's already a hot topic and Moore drew a loud cheer.

The face time for Moore was not the only promotional material in the show. MTV has taken to dropping entire movie trailers for upcoming films into the ceremony, which will make it hard for television viewers to know when the gala stops and the commercials start.

As for the awards themselves, which are voted on by MTV viewers, "Kill Bill Vol. 1" won numerous awards while "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" was given honors as best picture. Johnny Depp won for best actor for his rakish turn in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" and also took the night's unofficial prize for best speech (in a taped message from a French seaside balcony, he shook a plastic sword and hefted a cocktail, explaining he was researching material for the sequel).

The crowd was on its feet for the three musical performers. The Beastie Boys, who were given their license to ill all those years ago, got a rousing welcome as they delivered their new single, "Ch-Cha-Check It Out." The new rock band the Yeah Yeah Yeah's were also cheered, but the biggest excitement of the night was not for presenters Tom Cruise or Ashton Kutcher, it was for Eminem. The rapper and his mates in D12 arrived on stage decked out like Guns N' Roses and, along with dropping his trousers, the rapper raced off into the audience for the only moment of the night that reminded the crowd that they were watching a live event.

The audience itself, which filled a Sony Studios soundstage in Culver City, was predictably skinny, well-dressed, young and eclectic. It was sprinkled with people such as Arianna Huffington, Dennis Hopper and Snoop Dogg, and there was even a troll in a cage on stage and a giant, metallic fire-breathing bat. MTV has a way with this stuff.

Unlike the Academy Awards, which are about history, the MTV Movie Awards are about the summer of the moment. People remember that "Marty" won the best picture Oscar for 1955, but who can tell you the MTV gala's host from last year? Still, that has been part of the show's energy and fun, and it has rubbed off on the more august awards shows. The elaborate and cheeky filmed spoof segments at the Oscars, for instance, tapped into the MTV gala's specialty. This year, MTV Movie Awards host Lindsay Lohan seemed a bit wide-eyed and the filmed spoofs a little creaky. "It's a challenge the show has every year not only to keep up and do better than everyone else, but to take it up a notch from where the MTV Movie Awards were a year ago," said Tom Freston, the MTV Networks boss, who last week was elevated to co-president of Viacom Inc.

One thing Freston and company might consider is finding someone better to write the presenter dialogue. One gem this year is the stiff interaction between Christina Aguilera and Sharon Stone, who reveal that they have a lot in common, including the fact that both are from Pennsylvania. Is somebody getting this on TiVo? At least Eminem knows that sometimes the kids just want you to shut up and drop your pants.

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