After a red-carpet show full of young, relevant stars (and Jersey Shore cast members — three cheers for the awesome first ten minutes of season two!), the MTV Movie Awards started with a pre-filmed segment featuring a bald, fat, hairy Tom Cruise, dressed in his Les Grossman movie-producer costume from Tropic Thunder. Cruise, whose Knight and Day opens June 25, was clearly trying to appeal to the moviegoing kiddies by reprising his most subversive role, one that cleansed the public’s palate of much of his couch jumping and Scientology ranting and actually seemed pretty cool and funny at the time. (Plus, it involved lots of swearing, which is clearly the best way to the youngsters’ hearts.) But Tropic Thunder came out in August of 2008, nearly two years ago, so seeing Cruise in costume from that movie felt stale and somewhat odd. Did the teenagers watching instantly remember who he was? Did the adults? Robert Downey Jr. in blackface is the iconic lasting visual from Tropic Thunder, so the synapses fired by Cruise’s appearance were more, “Oh, wait, I think I remember: Is that the character from that movie with Robert Downey Jr. in blackface?”
A bit later on in the show, The Hangover’s Ed Helms and Ken Jeong appeared to perform a comedic song and interpretive dance, but were interrupted by Cruise as Grossman (the conceit being that Grossman was the one producing the awards and felt that the Helms-Jeong song wasn’t worthy of airtime). Cruise appeared live onstage as Grossman called a beat from Ludacris and began an elaborately choreographed hip-hop dance, with callback moves from the closing credits of Tropic Thunder — you know, that movie with Robert Downey Jr. in blackface? Suddenly, from behind a see-through screen appeared Jennifer Lopez, in a head-to-toe “Jenny From the Block” getup (complete with a bejeweled walking stick), and she and Cruise-as-Grossman proceeded to shimmy in tandem for what seemed like hours. Lopez, even more so than Cruise, is a star in need of some younger-fan (or any fan, really) love, so the pairing of these stars together — choreographed with walking sticks, of all things! — fully reinforced the manic, semi-desperate PR strategy behind the skit: They were like a super-team of nineties stars attempting to do whatever possible to get back in the young buying public’s good graces. But one question remains: Why did Christina Aguilera opt to sing alone rather than join these two? Strength in numbers!