06/10/2004 12:00AM

CineVegas fills break in the action

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The summer movie season is upon us.

Shrek and Harry Potter are already back in theaters, with "Spider-Man 2" on the way. The movie studios crank out their blockbusters for summertime when kids are out of school.

If you, like me, follow sports year round, this is also probably the time when you have the most time to go to the movies, with the NBA finals winding down and with college football more than two months away and the start of the NFL regular season nearly three months away.

It's also the time for the CineVegas Film Festival, which runs through next Saturday. After a pleasant cooling period this past week, the advance forecast for Las Vegas calls for a high of 97 degrees on Saturday and then temps in the 100's all next week. Las Vegas residents are looking for indoor activities, and the air-conditioned Brenden Theatres at the Palms Resort-Casino, where all of the festival's films are screened, fill the bill.

CineVegas is in its sixth year and second at the Palms. Opening night was actually Friday, but only one movie was to be shown - "D.E.B.S.," which is about a group of four plaid-skirted high school girls who train to be secret agents.

Las Vegas always has a steady parade of celebrities, but CineVegas will bring in some just for its event. Three-time Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson will receive the Marquee Award for lifetime achievement next Friday night after the 7 p.m. screening of his 1971 film "Drive, He Said." Sean Penn, his wife Robin Wright Penn, and Holly Hunter will receive Half-Life Awards for performers who have excelled at a young age. David Lynch, Julian Schnabel, and Bruce Connor will receive Vanguard Director Awards and have some of their films screened.

Sports fans and gamblers might be disappointed by this year's schedule. Last year, there were at least five films with sports themes, including my favorite, "Something to Cheer About," which told the story of the first all-black high school basketball team to win a state title. There were also gambling movies, including "Owning Mahowny," "Stuey," and "Shade," plus others with Vegas themes such as "Bunny Yeager's Nude Las Vegas" and "Holi-days."

This year, the festival more closely resembles what you might see at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Here's a quick look at a few films that piqued my interest. The complete list of screenings, admission prices, and other information is available at cinevegas.com or at the Palms.

"A League of Ordinary Gentlemen" (7:30 p.m. Tuesday and 4 p.m. Wednesday): No, this isn't the movie with Sean Connery that came out last year (That was "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"). This is one of the rare sports offerings. It tells the story of bowling becoming a major spectator sport after the pro bowlers tour was bought by three Microsoft programmers who hire a Nike marketing guru. I assume it's a comedy.

"Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" (7:15 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. Friday): Ever made a late-night run to White Castle? If so, then you could have made this movie, which is due for a nationwide release on July 30.

"Luck" (3 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 p.m. Monday): A study of the age-old debate of luck vs. destiny.

"Windy City Heat" (10 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 p.m. Thursday): Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, him), this film is like the current trend of reality TV shows. In this case, an actor is told he is going to star in a major motion picture, but it's all a fake with the entire cast and crew in on the joke.

More Vegas on the (small) screen

Speaking of reality TV shows, there are now two that come straight from Vegas. (In case you didn't know, the NBC hit show "Las Vegas" - which, coincidentally, was first previewed at CineVegas last summer - is not based in reality.)

"American Casino" debuted last Friday on the Discovery Channel. It follows the stories at the Green Valley Ranch, which is owned by Station Casinos. In the pilot, the hotel was preparing for the Super Bowl and the food service industry's Epicurian Awards.

In addition to showing the behind-the-scenes activity, it was refreshing to see the show also delve into the personal lives of the personnel. It showed the new general manager on the phone helping his daughter back in Reno with her homework, and also the promotions manager worrying about if he was impressing the new GM. Race and sports book manager Kelly Downey also got some face time.

If you missed the second episode on Friday night (airtimes are 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern/Pacific), it will rerun at 11 a.m. Sunday, 10 p.m. Tuesday, and 1 a.m. Wednesday. That show focuses on a $40,000 slot tournament held on Valentine's Day and a high roller going on a helicopter trip for two to the Grand Canyon.

Horseplayers won't want to miss the June 24 episode, which follows a road trip to Santa Anita for some of Green Valley Ranch's race book customers. It was on March 3, the day of a huge pick six pool.

The other reality show is "The Casino," which debuts at 9 p.m. Monday on Fox. The pilot introduces dot-com millionaires Thomas Breiling and Timothy Poster, the founders of travelscape.com who sold it to Expedia for $104 million in 2000, as they fulfill their dream of owning a legendary Las Vegas casino, the Golden Nugget. Now they have to run it.

"The Casino" is set for a 13-week run, just enough time to get us through the summer and right into football season.