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Martin lends a dash of wit to uninspiring Oscar odyssey

Monday, March 26, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Oscar shows come and go. Sometimes they provide memorable moments; sometimes they don't. The 73rd Annual Academy Awards last night fell mostly in the "don't" column.

It wasn't a bad show -- it moved at a fairly brisk pace, the musical numbers and honorary awards didn't go on too long, and the show had moments of laugh-out-loud humor from effective host Steve Martin -- but little happened that will inspire "Did you see that?" water-cooler conversation this morning. Aside from Julia Roberts' effervescent acceptance speech, it was the kind of Oscar telecast where a minor misreading of the TelePrompTer by Goldie Hawn got your attention ("You think when you grow up you at least learn how to read," she said, scolding herself).

The show began slowly with a too-obvious riff on "2001: A Space Odyssey," complete with a Home Planet Hello from astronauts aboard the International Space Station. At first, Martin stumbled through awkward jokes, especially one about the Oscar statue and Afghanistan. But then he got in a groove, zinging celebrities one after another. Julia Roberts laughed along with him. Russell Crowe, a perpetual sourpuss until he won an Oscar, did not.

Martin was more of an intellectual host, a dry wit happy to taunt the industry that employs him.

"It's not easy to keep a marriage together in Hollywood," Martin said, "because we sleep with so many different people."

Nor was he afraid to teeter on the brink of political incorrectness.

"I didn't realize 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' was a movie," Martin said. "To me it sounds like something Siegfried and Roy do on vacation."

Yikes. And meow too.

Martin may not be the Everyman that past Oscar host Billy Crystal became in recent years, but he lent his own style and class to the program. That can't be said for the ABC preshow, which was as inane as last year's. Host Julie Moron, er, Julie Moran and her cohorts asked questions and said things that made E! host Joan Rivers sound like a member of MENSA.

"When you were working on 'Bosom Buddies' dressing like a woman, did you ever think you'd be walking down this red carpet?" Moran asked Tom Hanks.

"You know, I don't know how to answer that question," Hanks sensibly replied.

In the first two hours of the telecast, recipients kept their acceptance speeches short and unmemorable. The same went for the original song performances -- there wasn't anything as anticipated as last year's song from the "South Park" movie.

"How are we doing on time?" Martin joked early in the broadcast. "Oh, we've got five hours."

We don't have that long, so on with the presentation of our awards:

BEST PART OF THE E! PRESHOW: Commercial for the movie "Pearl Harbor," a World War II epic that will be released in May. It looks really cool.

BWHAT? Bjork showed up on the ABC preshow wearing what looked like a dead swan. "My friend made it," she said. Did her friend procure the swan or did Bjork strangle it herself? With friends like that...

After her musical performance, Martin joked, "I was going wear my swan, but to me, they're so last year."

BEST TRAMP WITH SUPPORT AWARD: Britney Spears in her new Pepsi commercial. She showed up wearing a Pepsi jumpsuit, but mere seconds passed before she stripped down to something more revealing. She's getting predictable, even to the second-graders who buy her albums.

DUDE, YOU'RE INSIDE AND YOU'RE NOT JACK NICHOLSON: Danny DeVito wore his sunglasses throughout the Oscar ceremony. And munched on vegetables. Martin offered him dip.

COMB YOUR HAIR: That means you, Joaquin Phoenix. Don't you love how celebrities with all the money in the world are often the most unkempt people?

WORST EDITOR: Whoever was in the booth calling the shots during the Oscar telecast. He occasionally cut to unrecognizable people in the audience. Why?

DEFINITION PLEASE? "The Oscars will return in a California minute," said an announcer as the broadcast went to commercials. What does that mean to those of us who don't live in California?

BEST MOMENT IN AN OTHERWISE EXCITEMENT-FREE SHOW: "The FBI has announced a suspect in the plot to kidnap Russell Crowe," Martin said, "and all I can say is, Tom Hanks, you should be ashamed of yourself." Good sport Hanks played along, biting his lip and mouthing, "I'm sorry."

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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