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Hot stars and hot air

One questioner wanted to know if Sylvester Stallone had saved a part for his mother in his new movie. Another wondered what he learned about explosives for his latest role. A radio deejay used his turn at the microphone to brag about being hired as an extra, slated to be killed by the star. Someone asked if Stallone's porno flick The Italian Stallion would be released on video, unaware that it's been on shelves for over a decade.

Welcome to the world of fluff journalism, a.k.a. a star-studded press conference two days ago at the Fontainebleau Hilton to herald the Miami Beach filming of The Specialist, a Warner Bros. release starring Stallone and Sharon Stone. More than 200 international print and electronic journalists converged in a cramped banquet room, mostly to star-gaze and inquire about the latest and largest film to be produced in Florida.

If you didn't get strangled by the serpentine array of camera and microphone wires, or jostled by photographers trying to get the best shots for their publications, you could have choked on the cotton-candy questions lobbed by most of the reporters.

All this attention _ from CNN to the Australian New Weekly _ for a dog-and-pony show starring the most prized thoroughbreds in the Hollywood circus. Stallone and Stone _ even their names cry for a collaboration _ didn't disappoint the crowd, unless one was looking for in-depth questions and answers.

The two sexy stars were joined on the dais by co-stars James Woods, Rod Steiger and Eric Roberts. At a nearby podium stood producer Jerry Weintraub, who jovially deflected any tough questions.

At one point, a journalist challenged the image of Miami's Cuban-American population to be presented in The Specialist, since it deals with Stallone's battle against what a press release termed "the Cuban Mafia." For a few awkward seconds, each of the stars and Weintraub looked at each other to see who would directly tackle the hot-button topic. Nobody would.

"These actors are friends of mine and they're respectful of every community, not just the Spanish community," Weintraub finally said. "They'll be respectful to every human being on earth."

Not a bad answer, until Weintraub added a postscript _ "Is that pretty good?" _ which made his answer seem more like condescension than candor.

His stars fared better because they rarely met a query head-on. Stallone's most detailed response concerned Florida's film future.

"There's going to be a slow migration (by the film industry) to the east coast," said the star of Cliffhanger, Demolition Man and, of course, Rocky. "California is certainly having its troubles, so they're looking for alternatives. It would be quite feasible that Florida would be a perfect haven for filmmakers."

Florida, he informed another reporter, must centralize its "scattered" film works like Hollywood did. "What Florida needs to do is fork over a few acres and work out a 99-year lease with a studio."

Minutes later, Stallone said he has checked into the possibility of building such a complex himself. Suddenly, that friendly advice for Florida filmmakers sounded like a self-serving suggestion.

Stone, wearing a neckline that surpassed the adjective "plunging," gushed that she was "having the time of her life." She announced that, even though her role in The Specialist is a femme fatale, she won't be doffing her clothes for a nude scene. "He'll do that," she laughed, pointing at Stallone.

Woods was asked how it feels to be in Miami after the negative publicity its crime rate has generated.

"I'm from L.A. and you're asking me if I'm scared to be in Miami?" he asked in mock dismay. "I've been flooded on, burned out, earthquaked, and carjacked and you want to know if I'm worried about Miami? Where they have topless beaches, are you crazy?"

Then there was Steiger, a crusty veteran who fell on hard times since he won an Oscar in 1967. He said was having a ball trying out a "Coo-ban" accent he's working on for his role as a crime lord. He maintained the dialect for the entire media conference. Steiger obviously was the only person on stage who took the attention to heart, which was underscored by one revelatory response.

Steiger explained why he was so pleased to be in his co-stars' company.

"I had a clinical depression for eight years which crippled my career," said Steiger. "A whole generation of people in Hollywood got into executive positions and they didn't know me.

"I was invited to one studio (to audition) for a job and this guy _ maybe 35 or 36 _ said: "Mr. Steiger, can you do a southern accent?' I said, "Well, I got an Academy Award when I did the (Mississippi) sheriff in In the Heat of the Night, did you see it?' He said no."

The Specialist offers a rare chance for Steiger to prove he's still a top-notch actor.

"I couldn't get a decent, wonderful script like this in Hollywood," he said. "People think clinical depression means you're crazy or unpredictable. So I thank Mr. Weintraub, who is intelligent enough not to be captured by the fearsome cliches of our business.

"It's a good part with good people in a big picture. It'll remind the town I'm still alive, which you have to do all day long, no matter who you are."

What Tuesday's news conference needed was more straight-shooters like Steiger _ and less fluff.