Rebecca Ascher-Walsh and Tricia Johnson
March 24, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Gamblers would classify the start of this year’s annual ShoWest movie convention in Las Vegas (held March 6-9) as a push. Over a breakfast for theater owners and studio execs at the Paris hotel, Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA, served up mixed news: In 1999, box office was up nearly eight percent but theater attendance had declined from 1.48 billion to 1.47 billion. But his announcement didn’t strike fear or loathing in the hearts of his audience. Instead, there was a whiff of whatever throughout the week. Warner Bros. and Disney opted out, and nothing equalled the thrill of ShoWest 1999, when theater owners got a peek at the Star Wars prequel.

It didn’t help that exhibiting studios had a bumpy ride: Twentieth Century Fox’s reel had more technical difficulties than the Hubble telescope, including a glitch that saw the X-Men trailer cue up too soon. Paramount Pictures’ Sherry Lansing had to become a one-woman applause meter: While introducing ShoWest honoree Ving Rhames and mentioning his appearence in Mission: Impossible 2, she told a silent audience, ”I’d like to hear you clap for that one, please.” But The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, the Adam Sandler comedy Little Nicky, and Jim Carrey’s Me, Myself, and Irene did leave the crowd buzzing.

For the stars, ”ShoWest is a dog and pony show,” surmised Vince Vaughn, plugging The Cell, costarring Jennifer Lopez. Drew Barrymore, who lends her voice to Fox’s animated Titan A.E., cartwheeled — literally — at the awards dinner, while Nicky‘s press-shy Adam Sandler skulked down a catwalk to house music at a New Line lunch. But Ben Kingsley, who presented What Planet Are You From? costar Annette Bening with her Actress of the Year trophy, lapped it all up. ”What I love about this room is the complete lack of cynicism,” he said. There’s ”no agenda whatsoever, other than to say, ‘We love what you do for a living.”’ Gamblers might call that a sure thing.

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