Hollywood promotes new films with screenings to U.S. troops, visits by stars

Monday, December 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Actor David Keith, who appears in the military thriller ``Behind Enemy Lines,'' has signed an autograph he hopes will be delivered to Osama bin Laden. It's printed on the side of a 500-pound bomb carried by an American F-18 jet.

With patriotic fervor high, Keith's recent visit to the USS Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea is one of many ways Hollywood is publicizing new movies while trying to boost troop morale overseas.

``It was the greatest thing I've ever got to do in my life. There's an electric sense of togetherness there,'' said Keith, who plays a command master chief in the war movie.

President Bush sent aides to Los Angeles in October to urge entertainment leaders to find ways to encourage volunteerism and offer support for soldiers.

As one result, Warner Bros. plans to premiere director Steven Soderbergh's remake of ``Ocean's Eleven'' for multinational forces in Turkey this week. Stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts were to participate in the morale-boosting mission, then make promotional tours in Rome and London. The film opens in the United States on Friday.

Just as red-carpet premieres at swank Los Angeles theaters generate publicity, so the goodwill missions also help create awareness of the films even if press coverage is limited.

``These troop visits are good publicity and certainly help spread the word around about the films,'' said Dan Marks, a box-office analyst with ACNielsen EDI Inc. ``But I don't know how much that will really translate into box-office returns.''

``Behind Enemy Lines,'' which opened last Friday, and Sony Pictures' true-life rescue drama ``Black Hawk Down'' are two military-themed films whose release dates were moved up in part to benefit from the public's heightened sense of patriotism.

``Black Hawk Down,'' about a 1993 battle between U.S. soldiers and Somali warlords that left 18 Americans dead, debuts in limited release in late December and wider release Jan. 18.

20th Century Fox held a screening of ``Behind Enemy Lines'' on Nov. 17 for 1,500 Naval officers and sailors at the Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, and star Owen Wilson arrived in an F/A-18 Super Hornet jet to greet the troops.

Keith, who filmed aboard the USS Carl Vinson earlier this year when it was harbored at San Diego, said the 3,000 troops he met in the Arabian Sea were just happy to hear from a civilian, since many have had little contact with the public since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

When he left, Keith said, ``Behind Enemy Lines'' _ about a jet pilot stranded in hostile territory in Bosnia _ was playing around the clock on the aircraft carrier.