NEW YORK (AP) — Don't blame Hugh Jackman.
This versatile performer clearly showed up at the Oscars prepared to put everything he's got into the hosting job.
Judging from the broadcast's first hour or so, he was a solid choice to help bring needed new life to what's all-too-routinely billed as "Hollywood's biggest night."
As an action star, a song-and-dance man and People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" (among his many credentials), Jackman would seem to be capable of most anything.
Maybe next he'd be willing to try fixing the economy.
At any rate, the sorry state of the economy inspired Jackman's opening performance.
"Due to cutbacks, the Academy said they didn't have enough money for an opening number," Jackman declared. "I'm going to do one anyway."
And he did, with a musical tribute to the nominated films cleverly staged with tatty, bargain-basement props (and help from Anne Hathaway, summoned from her seat).
Charmingly, Jackman greeted, and joked with, many of the nominated stars in the hall.
After saying hello to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Jackman admitted "I actually don't have a joke for them, I'm just contractually obligated to mention them at least five times during the show. That's once."
No knee slappers here, but when it's Hugh Jackman voicing them, who cares? The key word: charm.
But he's only human. And he's only one man.
Less than 12 minutes into the broadcast, he stepped away. After a curtain miscue and some disjointed film clips, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar was presented. By not one, or two, presenters — but five past winners. A nice gesture, but a talky, overpopulated way to get on with the necessary business.
It was an early warning signal. Was this the best the revamped Oscars could do?
Next, dream team Tina Fey and Steve Martin picked up the pace a bit, presenting Best Original and Adapted Screenplays. (At one point, Martin interrupted his boilerplate setup to turn to Fey: "Don't fall in love with me," he cautioned her.)
Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black came next, to announce the Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Short Film.
Gee, this was starting to feel very familiar. Which is to say disappointing.
Along with Jackman presiding, this year's Oscarcast was supposed to feel stylistically new and invigorated. In a year when Oscar winners seemed more predictable than usual, the night's suspense for many viewers had been diverted to wondering whether the broadcast itself would successfully deliver a few welcome surprises.
The early indications were: Very, very few.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.