- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

Chris Rock made it through Sunday night’s entire Oscar telecast without getting bleeped.

What he failed to do was make the case that he should be back next year.

Mr. Rock, arguably our best stand-up comic, proved a poor fit on ABC’s mercifully streamlined Oscar telecast.

The whippet-thin comic looked Oscar worthy in a snazzy tuxedo, but you know what they say about first impressions.

The opening monologue, in which the host can make his or her mark on Oscar history, confirmed for red staters that Mr. Rock was the last talent they wanted to see front and center.

Yes, Mr. Rock poked some obligatory fun at filmmaker Michael Moore’s weight problem and Sen. John Kerry’s penchant for marrying wealthy ladies, but he reserved his main fire for President Bush.

What left many viewers agape was his strained analogy between the war in Iraq and a feud between Gap and Banana Republic employees (corporate siblings, incidentally). Gratuitously imagining blood and carnage in the warring stores before lamely petering out, the bit was tasteless and toothless.

He also riffed on second-rate stars serving as place holders for the Tom Cruises and Denzel Washingtons of the world, a routine that showed his lack of understanding of how Hollywood ticks.

“Clint Eastwood’s a star, OK? Tobey Maguire’s just a boy in tights,” he barked.

Mr. Rock’s best moment came with a segment taped at the Magic Johnson theaters, where he asked regular moviegoers in the ‘hood if they had seen any of the five best-picture nominees.

They hadn’t, and if they had voted, “White Chicks” would have swept the awards.

That’s the kind of telling satire we needed more — smart but not mean-spirited.

This year, a gaggle of awards were given out at random spots in the auditorium, in part to avoid the dreaded prolonged winners’ walks to the podium. The effect seemed clumsy, if well-intentioned. Perhaps if the producers stick to their guns, this innovation will become an accepted way of keeping the shows to manageable lengths.

The Oscar speeches provided a bit of magic, thanks to Jamie Foxx’s well rehearsed shout out to his grandmother and a touch of class courtesy of Morgan Freeman.

Hilary Swank, however, embarrassingly prattled on beyond her allotted time. Apparently, she was determined to die again.

A delicious treat came in the form of Beyonce, who proved her range by performing three very different Oscar-nominated songs. She’s so good we’ll overlook the extra bling she wore during one number. It must have taken a good deal of upper-body strength just to stand upright.

Ratings for the Sunday telecast only emphasized the growing cultural estrangement between Hollywood and those supposed flyover states.

Nielsen Media Research reported yesterday that 41.5 million viewers, on average, tuned in, a 5 percent drop from 2004.

Larry Hyams, vice president of audience analysis and research for ABC, told the Associated Press the dip likely meant the ceremony drew more viewers from metropolitan areas and less from rural areas than past awards telecasts.

It takes a special kind of comic to win Oscar’s favor. A Billy Crystal or Steve Martin can taunt his fellow actors while simultaneously winking to them that it’s all showbiz, baby.

When Mr. Rock insults, say, Tim Robbins by calling his politics boring, the blow lands. And stings. Don’t think Mr. Robbins and company won’t remember that when the shortlist of comics to host the 2005 awards show makes the rounds.

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