Bell & Pucci: Brian Ach/WireImage.com
April 28, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

What a difference two years makes. The last time I covered the Tribeca Film Festival, in 2004, Robert De Niro’s post-9/11 love letter to his downtown Manhattan ‘hood was still kind of, sort of, uh — okay, it was a disorganized mess.

Just three days in, it’s too soon to tell if Year 5 is the charm for Tribeca, but so far, so good. Picking up my credentials took a mere 10 minutes and did not entail multiple visits to multiple locations on the advice of multiple well-intentioned, but misinformed volunteers. And any festival where the badges don’t require humiliating ID photos (bad lighting, bad color, bad resolution, BAD HAIR!) gets an A+ from me. Plus, a press lounge with unlimited, high-speed Internet access? Hallelujah!

But on to the fest — the movies, the scene! Yesterday I caught a screening of American Cannibal: The Road to Reality, a doc about — no, not Jeffrey Dahmer — but two struggling screenwriters, who, desperate for work, pitch a reality show called The Ultimate Ultimate Challenge (no joke) that would ship contestants off to an island and starve them untilâ?¦ they ate each other. That was the conceit anyway. Big surprise, no network ever picked up this Survivor-on-sadistic-sauce because, as the doc shows, a few days into filming the pilot (yes, they actually made it that far!), one of the contestants got seriously injured. Producers then pulled the plug. Considering the show’s bogus premise and strip-club pedigree (the moneybags producer was Kevin Blatt, a.k.a. The Guy Who Marketed the Paris Hilton Sex Video), it’s a wonder a single frame was ever shot. The doc itself is pretty entertaining.

Later I saw Fifty Pills, a comedy starring festival mainstay Lou Taylor Pucci (Personal Velocity, Thumbsucker) and Veronica Mars‘ Kristen Bell. At the jam-packed after-party in the trendy Meatpacking District, my EW partner-in-Tribeca-crime Gilbert Cruz and I sat in the VIP section, sipping free drinks and chatting with the baby-faced Pucci until a doofus bouncer bounced by to tell us we had to clear the table so he could seat the Fifty Pills cast. ”Dude, he’s the star of the movie!” bellowed one of Pucci’s friends. The bouncer bounced away in shame. Moron. Fellow Pills castmate John Hensley was also there, sporting the same Burt-sized eyebrows that are such a distraction on Nip/Tuck. A glammed-up Bell dropped by our table and shook hands, only to be swallowed up in the increasingly high tide of hangers-on. It was time to get out of there.

On the screening agenda for Friday? Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), Nick Stahl (Sin City) and Selma Blair in Night of the White Pants. I’m in trouble if there’s a dress code in honor of that nutty title.

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