Barbara Lippert’s Critique: MTV’s Leading Man

Aslackerized Oscars, the MTV Movie Awards (this Thursday at 8:30 p.m.) are a populist breakthrough, in that they allow the nominees and winners to be chosen by viewers rather than some old guys from “the Academy.” They also bestow more practical, less high-falutin’ awards like Best Kiss and Best Frightened Performance. So it’s only natural (and welcome) that the promos make fun of movies and the whole overblown awards genre in general.

That said, serious films like Maria Full of Grace—a tenderly told drama about a young, pregnant Colombian drug mule—would hardly seem fair game for parody. But spoofed it is in this campaign from MTV’s in-house agency (with ideas hatched by a bunch of Saturday Night Live writers, including Jimmy Fallon, who is hosting the awards). Instead of Maria Full of Grace, call it Jimmy Full of Grease. The spot recreates the scene in the South American drug lord’s office, except instead of heroin pellets, Fallon is told to smuggle an MTV award—a gilded box of popcorn that’s bigger and wider than an Oscar—into the country. “How am I supposed to do that?” he asks. The drug dealer, with a guayabera shirt and a hugely put-on accent (“Meester Heemy,” he calls his mule), makes an up-yours gesture. Cut to Heemy, hobbling bandy-legged through an airport and sweating in agony on the plane as the pilot says there’ll be some turbulence. Yikes.

It’s easily the most shocking ad of the bunch, but as ass jokes go, it’s conceptually advanced—higher up than Farrelly brothers-style flatulence. And while Fallon had a rough start in movies with Taxi, his acting here is admirable. You have to hand it to a guy who can be funny and endearing while pretending to have a large gold object stuck up his keister.

And it’s not as if the other spots don’t have tender emotion (or more ass-and-smuggler jokes). We get both in “Jimmy and Chewy”—my favorite spot of the campaign. Timely and juicy, it mocks both Tom Cruise and Star Wars. What more could you want?

Granted, Chewbacca seems on the verge of overexposure. The Verizon spot in which he performs a variety of voiceovers (sad, happy, etc.) with the same ear-curling growl is pretty funny. And Letterman had a bit called “Trump or Wookiee?” in which photos of the Donald and Chewy were covered up to the crowns of their ginger-haired heads—and it was tough to tell who was who. This spot comes in just under the Wookiees-are-so-over wire. Open on Jimmy, sitting on a sofa in a space-age bachelor’s lair, complete with lit candles, skis by the fireplace and bossa nova music in the background. An unseen companion is mixing drinks at the bar. The everyboy-ish Fallon is reading about Cruise’s “hot new romance” in Us Weekly. “This whole Tom and Katie thing is huge!” he says. “I mean, you can’t buy this kind of publicity! Hey, you’ve got a new movie out, I’m hosting the MTV Awards,” he says to the person at the blender. “We should start dating!” It turns out that the blue-drink maker is Chewy—naked, bandoleer at the ready.

Cut to the next morning, with Jimmy and his oversized, furry friend under the dotted duvet covers of a modern, oversized bed. Jimmy, looking satisfied, sips from a mug, while Chewy calmly reads the Times. “Who woulda thought a stunt could go so right?” our host says. Chewy grunts contentedly.

The second-funniest spot also alludes to Jimmy’s gayness. (Homosexuality and male bikini waxes seem to be the humor topics du jour.) I’m not sure if the setting is supposed to satirize the diversity of a typical conference-room commercial (i.e., one Asian person) or make fun of actual self-serious MTV employees, but the casting is amusing. The boss is told that “Chris Rock is on line one.” Everybody listens intently to the center of the table as Fallon, talking into a cell phone while pacing in his bedroom, does a great impersonation of Rock. He says he’s not available to host but that Jimmy Fallon would be great. (“You won’t get him, though,” he says, in Rock’s hyper-expressive, mega-articulated cadences. “Too much money!”)

The group thinks about it. Fallon is young, good looking and as one young woman puts it, “will pull in the gay audience.” This is a sort of double joke, as it also refers to Rock’s mockery of the Oscars as only interesting to gay people. With this, Fallon is taken aback and loses the accent. He gets it back in time to say, “Jimmy Fallon gets lai-aid!”—and lets out a string of expletives that would make David Mamet blush, most of which are bleeped.

Is this homophobic? It would be, if it weren’t coming from MTV, an intensely gay-friendly channel. I’d say it’s more in the neighborhood of Fallon making fun of himself. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding his sexuality (he’s the ultimate impersonator, so it’s hard to get a grip on who he is), and the spots show that both he and MTV are comfortable enough with the subject to make fun of it.

Another spot will run only in cinemas and is a perfect parody of the Fandango commercials, which were funny the first 100 times. In this case, the paper-bag guy is holding a coffee mug that says “Number one bag.” As he says, “I love movies. Movies movies movies,” Jimmy takes a lighter to him. He burns in hell, or actually just off camera, which pulls back to reveal the whole teeny, dumpy set.

Yes, movie making is not pretty. But judging from the funny business in these promos, the awards show should be mighty entertaining. Although I think I’ll abstain from the popcorn for a while.

MTV Movie awards



Creative director

Kevin Mackall


Jimmy Fallon, Michael Shoemaker, Matt Murray, Charlie Grandy, Doug Abeles

Associate creative director

Michael Bellino


Betsy Blakemore

Executive producers

Kevin Mackall,

Amy Campbell


Michael Bellino


Crew Cuts,

New York