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San Jose Mercury News (California)
Feb 20, 2005 - 01:00 AM

by Dion Nissenbaum; Mercury News Sacramento Bureau

It's not easy to 'Be Cool' when boo birds are flapping

Arnold Schwarzenegger loves to create a spectacle. But the bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-governor may have gotten more than he bargained for last week when he tried to bring a slice of Hollywood to Sacramento.

The capital premiere of "Be Cool" was meant to tout films that keep their work in California. For the state's bucolic -- and often-dissed -- capital, it was a chance to revel in some of the perks of having a celebrity governor. The Rock, Vince Vaughn, Harvey Keitel, Cedric the Entertainer and Christina Milian all flew north to promote their new comedy.

It was supposed to be a celebration. But liberal activists transformed the evening into a very-public assault on the governor's conservative reform agenda.

Organizers shrewdly booked the restaurant next door to the theater, placing dozens of demonstrators smack-dab in front of the red carpet where Schwarzenegger and the stars were planning to walk.

"I am a special interest because I care about my children's education," read one sign. "Kindergarten Cop terminates education," read another.

Peppered among the protesters were a smattering of stargazers who picked up protest signs so they could be closer to the red carpet.

"We're here for the celebrities," said 22-year-old Vince Lundgren, who held two signs as makeshift umbrellas to block the rain. "We're here to see the Rock."

The demonstration didn't deter top Democrats from attending the gala. Among those taking in the movie were Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn of Campbell, Assemblyman Tom Umberg of Santa Ana and former Davis administration official Maria Contreras-Sweet.

But the protest created a conundrum for the administration. There was no way the governor's team was going to allow Schwarzenegger or the celebrities to walk the protest gantlet, so they closed off the canopy-covered red carpet entrance and moved to Plan B.

While organizers figured out what to do, amped-up television reporters stood by the rope line waiting to interview celebrities.

"There's nobody here yet,'' said one cheery Sacramento reporter forced to go on live several times with nothing to say. "We're out here waiting anxiously for the stars to arrive,'' he told viewers. "Nothing major yet, but something will happen.''

Still, invited guests did their best to conjure up images of Hollywood. California Republican Party spokeswoman Karen Hanretty joked that she was wearing her finest J. Crew for the premiere.

Jessica Burns, who had pulled out her swankiest fur coat, was puzzled by the protest. "I think it's not the time and the place, because I think it's going to prevent things from coming to Sacramento,'' said the 27-year-old worker at a media buying firm.

With demonstrators chanting, the sport-utility vehicles began rolling down the pedestrian mall, past the red carpet entrance, past the protesters, and up to the main entrance. Stars popped out, waved to fans and ducked under the canopy to chat up their film.

Schwarzenegger, who had planned to walk down the red carpet, avoided the scene entirely by coming in a back entrance and emerging from the lobby to talk with reporters waiting by the rope line.

As he stood on the red carpet with the stars, Schwarzenegger tried to downplay the protest, even as he was booed while standing for photos with the Rock.

Your fans are upset they can't get in,'' the governor joked to the Rock.

Once inside, the governor told theater officials that he hopes to bring similar events to Sacramento once a month. But one wonders if the greeting he received at "Be Cool'' might cause Schwarzenegger to have second thoughts.

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