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83rd Annual Academy Awards

The youth movement in this year's choice of Oscar hosts didn't alter the show's dynamics, from the opening insert-actors-in-montage sequence (hello, Billy Crystal) to the stiff, awkward banter between James Franco and Anne Hathaway throughout.

Hosts: James Franco, Anne Hathaway

The youth movement in this year’s choice of Oscar hosts didn’t alter the show’s dynamics, from the opening insert-actors-in-montage sequence (hello, Billy Crystal) to the stiff, awkward banter between James Franco and Anne Hathaway throughout. While Melissa Leo dropped an “f-bomb” early on, the “f” words best describing the proceedings would be “flat,” “fumbling” and “familiar” — proving it takes more than a new coat of paint to invigorate a ceremony that easily flummoxes innovation. Given the multiple technical wins for “Inception,” perhaps we should write off this Oscarcast as a bad dream.

Nobody knows more about keeping an unwieldy awards-show train running on time than producer-director Don Mischer, and he brought this one home in unusually brisk time. Alas, that couldn’t prevent the telecast from nearly running off the rails.

After the opening, Hathaway assured Franco he is “very appealing to a younger demographic as well,” a wry acknowledgement of the calculation that informed their selection as hosts. Then again, they soon handed off to nonagenarian Kirk Douglas, whose shtick milking the moment — and milking it some more — went past the point of being cute, followed by Leo’s rambling, bleeped acceptance.

“It’s the young and hip Oscars!” Hathaway gushed after Leo’s expletive. But no, it really wasn’t.

Hathaway brought more energy and poise to the table than her co-host, who — underscoring that the producers didn’t know what to do with him — made a fleeting appearance in Marilyn Monroe drag.

Having presenters hand out awards in compatible pairs — – art direction and cinematography; animated short and feature; adapted and original screenplay — shrewdly streamlined the presentation process but couldn’t breathe life or spontaneity into the ceremony. And a screen that projected moving images onto a Hollywood Bowl-style backdrop doubtless looked more impressive in the Kodak than it did on TV.

There were nice interludes speckled through the show: David Seidler’s mention of being the oldest writer ever to win for “The King’s Speech;” Christian Bale choking up; Sandra Bullock’s playful intros of the best-actor bunch; and the sheer incongruity of Russell Brand’s mismatched pairing with Dame Helen Mirren.

Granted, the producers couldn’t control how the lead acting categories and coronation of “The King’s Speech” seemed to be such foregone conclusions. Yet about halfway through, it was clear the show could do little more than trudge limply toward its conclusion. Even Crystal’s appearance felt squandered — introducing a tribute to Bob Hope, who “threw” to Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.

Not much of a payoff for the build-up. And a crowdpleasing close with a children’s choir felt like too little, much too late.

Politics, meanwhile, only reared their head when “Inside Job” director Charles Ferguson cited the lack of banking prosecutions after the financial meltdown, while a cameo by President Obama — who cited “As Time Goes By” as his favorite movie song — felt like a waste of his time and ours.

Finally, a mid-show announcement about the Academy renewing its broadcast deal with ABC, complete with a gratuitous cut to Disney CEO Robert Iger? In this Oscars, even a preview of coming attractions managed to miss the mark.

With ABC lacking a Barbara Walters special, the network’s red-carpet arrivals show also expanded to a mindnumbing 90 minutes, with Robin Roberts, Tim Gunn, Krista Smith and Maria Menounos herding the stars.

Fortunately, Gunn actually did some homework about folks he interviewed, which (admittedly grading on a curve) placed him a cut above the customary butt-kissing and “What are you wearing?” fashion talk. There was also a sweet taped piece interviewing mothers of nominees that probably belonged in the main show.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the hosts kept touting meaningless “exclusives” and “firsts,” and “Access Hollywood’s” Menounos seemed positively obsessed with the “more than 500 reporters” lining the red carpet. Of course, that was less embarrassing than her exchange with Brand, who referenced his “subliminal erotic tension” with Mirren. “Care to expand on that?” Menounos asked, before quickly pleading (one suspects an earpiece was involved) that he not.

In terms of banal chat, there had been quite enough expansion already — and it was only a harbinger of things to come.

83rd Annual Academy Awards

Special; ABC, Sun. Feb. 27, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT

Production: Broadcast live from the Kodak Theater. Producers, Bruce Cohen, Don Mischer; supervising producer, Michael B. Seligman; director, Mischer; writers, Jon Macks, Jordan Rubin, Bruce Vilanch, David Wild; coordinating producer, Danette Herman; production designer, Steve Bass; music director, William Ross; nomination film sequences, Lori Margules; opening film, Troy Miller. 3 HOURS, 16 MIN.

Cast: Hosts: James Franco, Anne HathawayPresenters: Amy Adams, Javier Bardem, Annette Bening, Kathryn Bigelow, Cate Blanchett, Russell Brand, Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Sandra Bullock, Billy Crystal, Kirk Douglas, Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Hanks, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Mila Kunis, Jude Law, Matthew McConaughey, Helen Mirren, Steven Spielberg, Hilary Swank, Justin Timberlake, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon.

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