Last year we wondered whether the predictable populism of the MTV Movie Awards signaled a dark future for the Oscars, what with the latter show feeling the ratings heat and doubling its best-picture nominees. It hasn't (so far), but after Tivo-ing our way through this year's Summit-sponsored "Twilight" commercial -- er, MTV Movie Awards -- we can't help wondering something else: if the show fails even on its own blatantly commercial terms.
Sure, there will always be a YouTube-able moment or two, and the frequent swearing and requisite same-sex kisses (Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, Scarlett Johansson and Sandra Bullock), will keep the Parents Television Council busy for a while. And the revival of Les Grossman, as out of left field as it is, probably will achieve its not-so-hidden goal of unleavening Tom Cruise's image just as he gets set to release a big summer action comedy.
Yet at a certain point it's worth asking what all the shameless plugs and "Twilight" self-congratulation really achieves. We ask this not from a cultural standpont -- though, given how MTV once defined youth culture instead of merely holding up a mirror to it, there's a question to be asked there too -- but in regard to the show's own goals.
The more craven bits, far from selling the films, often just drew attention to how creatively bankrupt they really are. Is someone actually more likely to see "Grown-Ups" after watching Sandler, Spade et al. trot out their lukewarm shtick? (If they are, it's only because an hour later they saw Will Ferrell's "Other Guys" shtick and realized it could be worse.)
Last year, the show flogged such summer hopefuls as "Bruno" and "Land of the Lost," and we saw how much that helped. For all the unabashed marketing, the MTV Movie Awards doesn't seem to get many people to talk about movies. It's probably not an accident that the biggest conversation piece from last night wasn't about a film but about the frequent swearing.
When they weren't failing movies that may be doomed anyway, the plugs were redundant. There's probably no person whopping
and hollering at the relentless "Twilight" nods and teases who wouldn't
have seen "Eclipse" anyway. (And if MTV and/or studios are trying to
show that the next generation is ready for their awards-show moment,
they may want to try something else, unless you go for Kristen Stewart
acceptance-speech gems like this one: "I guess I agree with you.
Twilight is awesome. Woo.")
The few films that could benefit from a boost are the ones least likely to get it. You can almost sense Steve Carell's and Paul Rudd's reluctance at having to turn up to present so younger people will pay attention to "Dinner for Schmucks." They did put on their best game face, but a teen stampede to the box-office we will probably not see as a result of their appearance.
The Academy has long resisted turning it into a plug-fest for movies currently in theaters, for reasons of artistic integrity. But they may be doing those movies a favor. Even typical awards-show sentimentality -- like when Ken Jeong mentioned from the podium that his wife had survived breast cancer -- came off awkwardly.
The one moment that felt uncontrived and in the spirit of MTV's leading-not-following roots was when Rain won the Biggest Bad [Guy] award for "Ninja Assassin" over MTV perennials like Sam Worthington and Angelina Jolie. It passed quickly and unremarkably.
There's no ethical issue in making an awards show a celebration of commerce instead of art. (The Golden Globes does it pretty much every year.) But once you've decided you're going to turn a kudos program into a commercial bazaar, you may want to do a better job selling.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards. Credit: Christopher Polk / Getty Images