Rock's quips keep audience in tow

Television

The 77th Annual Academy Awards

February 28, 2005|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

From the opening moment of last night's 77th Annual Academy Awards, Chris Rock brought an energy to the telecast unlike anything seen in years. The audience greeted him with a standing ovation, and he responded with an opening monologue that was a tad profane, a bit political and almost funny enough to warrant all the pre-show hype.

"Sit your [expletives] down," he shouted to the hall full of standing celebrities, less than 10 seconds after hitting the stage - in case anyone thought he would go totally G-rated for prime-time network television.

Rock quickly established a driving comic rhythm to his monologue with an opening riff admonishing Hollywood studios not to use B-list stars when A-list actors are unavailable.

"When you can't get Tom Cruise, just Jude Law, wait," he said. "When you can't get Russell Crowe, only Colin Farrell, wait. When you want Denzel, and all you can get is me, wait."

There was an edge to his put-downs, unlike the buddy-buddy needling of Billy Crystal in recent telecasts. Introducing one presenter, Rock said, "When he's not dazzling us with his acting ability, he's boring us to death with his politics. Please welcome Tim Robbins."

Sean Penn took exception to one of Rock's comments before presenting the best actress award: "In response to the question of who Jude Law is, he's one of our finest actors," Penn said.

As promised, Rock quickly got political. "I'm not going to bash Bush," he told the audience before flashing a wicked smile and doing just that.

Referring to Fahrenheit 9/11, Rock asked the audience how they would like to run for president with a "movie in every theater in the country that showed how much you sucked."

Rock brought an instant racial consciousness to the evening: "Four black nominees - it's like Def Oscar Jam," he said. In response to critics saying Hollywood is out of touch with the rest of America, Rock went to the Magic Johnson Theater in Los Angeles and asked African-Americans for their picks as best picture. The point was deftly made.

In trying to minimize the line between people on stage and in the audience, some awards were presented while winners were in their seats. Director Louis J. Horvitz used it sparingly.

Yo-Yo Ma, Carlos Santana and Beyonce not only delivered the musical goods, they brought a refreshing sense of cultural diversity to the telecast - matched by Jamie Foxx opening his emotional remarks after winning the Best Actor Oscar with the call and answer lyrics of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say?"

Rock wasn't anywhere near pitch-perfect last night. Nor was he as raw as he and executive producer Gil Cates suggested he'd be. But how edgy is any telecast going to get with a five-second delay?

What mattered is that the audience was behind Rock from the start, and he was good enough to keep them in his corner.

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