By Samantha Miller
November 04, 2002 12:00 PM

Jennifer Campbell was looking forward to a mellow Sunday night out—and Hailey, Idaho (pop. 6,500), rarely offers any other kind. But the mother of three was in for a shock on Sept. 29 when she walked into the Mint, the Main Street nightclub owned by local Bruce Willis. Instead of the usual deejay-and-beer scene, a crew of thong-clad Chippendales were gyrating away. And among the hundreds of women enjoying the beefcake was Willis’s ex-wife Demi Moore. “At first she was just sitting there with some friends, watching,” says Campbell. “But then they started getting rowdy.” Tying her shirt up to bare a taut tummy, Moore stood and “started doing her Striptease dance,” Campbell says. “The guys would come out and she would show them her moves, kind of like, ‘You guys got something? Well, watch this!’ ” The crowd did—with envy. “Her body is like a 15-year-old’s,” marvels Campbell. “I’m like, ‘Forget watching those Chippendales!’ She was way more entertaining.”

Indeed, with her 40th birthday looming on Nov. 11, Moore looks like she’s pushing, oh, 23—and after five years prioritizing motherhood over movie stardom, she’s once again ready for her close-up. Even appearing in a bikini alongside coltish Cameron Diaz didn’t faze her: Shooting a beach scene in early October for Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Moore (who plays an ex-Angel gone bad in the sequel, due in June) wowed cast and crew when she unveiled a look far sleeker than the pumped-up days of ’96’s Striptease and ’97’s G.I. Jane. “Oh my God, it’s insane—she has the most beautiful figure,” says Angels costar Drew Barrymore. “And I heard she pigged out on Chinese food right before we shot.”

Her secret? When it comes to exercise, apparently less is Moore. “If she works out hard, she gets too cut and it doesn’t look great,” says a close friend. “She’s lucky though. She doesn’t have to do too much. She just has a great body.” Of course, she’s not simply lying on the BarcaLounger. She swims and Rollerblades at home in Idaho, where she has an outdoor pool and weight room, and trained with martial-arts expert Oliver Whitcomb—her ex-boyfriend—to perfect her roundhouse kicks for Angels. (For a boost, she gulps Red Bull, an energy drink.) Still, it’s a far cry from the years when she would bike 30 miles before breakfast. “Now she’s at a place where she has come into her own,” says her friend and producing partner Suzanne Todd. “She’s embracing who she wants to be as a person and not focusing on how she looks but how she feels. Having done that, she’s better-looking than ever.”

And content on the home front—despite her split earlier this year from Whitcomb, 32, her beau since 1999. In quiet Hailey, Moore’s life revolves around daughters Rumer, 14, Scout, 11, and Tallulah, 8, and the standard parental procession of soccer games, recitals and school fund-raisers. Already known for having forged one of show-biz’s more amicable divorces, she and Willis, whose marriage crumbled in 1998, have drawn even closer in recent months. A year ago Willis, 47, spent more than $7 million for a 7,300-sq.-ft., five-bedroom house directly across the street from Moore’s $2.8 million, six-bedroom spread. (Willis’s former home base, a $2 million estate where he lived with Spanish model Maria Bravo until their split in 2000, was 10 miles from Moore’s.) In July the ex-spouses visited Disney World together—staying in separate suites at the Animal Kingdom Lodge—to celebrate Scout’s 11th birthday. “It’s a huge priority for both of them that the kids get to see as much of them as they can,” says Campbell, whose three children’s activities often intersect with the Willis youngsters’.

Around Hailey the exes’ togetherness has sparked speculation of a romantic rapprochement. A possibility? “All I can tell you is that she’s very happy and content,” says Todd. “Liz Taylor, Richard Burton? My own personal wishful thinking. But you never know. It could happen. Demi and Bruce are good together even as friends and parents, but yeah, you know, they’re good together.”

For three years Moore and Whitcomb also seemed to mesh despite their differences. The laid-back Aspen, Colo., native—described by one acquaintance as “the most unflashy guy who ever walked the planet”—initiated the split in June. “The relationship just wasn’t working for him,” says a friend of Whitcomb’s, who adds that the “final straw” was Moore’s taking the role in Angels. “He is not into all that Hollywood stuff.” Whitcomb remains friendly with Moore and her children, with whom he had grown close, says his friend. “They still talk.”

As Moore reenters the showbiz orbit, Willis hasn’t been the only flashy guy in her life. She attracted attention in July by watching a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert from the front row, then turning up at a party days later with the band’s frontman, Anthony Kiedis, who turns 40 Nov. 1. “They’re friends, she’s a fan, it’s nothing more than that,” Kiedis’s spokeswoman said at the time. Early in October Moore sparked more buzz by taking in a screening of Swept Away with Guy Oseary, Madonna‘s Maverick Entertainment business partner. But at Oseary’s 30th-birthday bash in Beverly Hills on Oct. 19, another woman was on his arm—and Moore, who came with a girlfriend, danced with him only briefly. “He’s not dating Demi, they’re just really good friends,” a pal says of Oseary, who has previously stepped out with Gwyneth Paltrow and model Eva Herzigova. “They talk on the phone and go out to dinner.” (Gossips, restart your engines: At the party Moore did vamp to Madonna‘s “Vogue” with actor Owen Wilson.)

Hollywood scenemaking, a svelte shape, a showy new role: Is Moore gearing up for a full-fledged comeback? The answer is as complicated as her hide-and-seek relationship with fame. Once known for her sometimes-abrasive ambition—and her penchant for baring her toned bod offscreen and on—Moore put her career on the back burner after G.I. Jane (save for a short stint in ’98 shooting the art-house drama Passion of Mind). “She stepped back by choice,” says Todd. “It wasn’t like she wasn’t getting roles and was being drummed out of business. She was at the top of her game.” Perhaps, but a string of box office disappointments had made it a precarious perch. After her star-making turn in 1990’s Ghost, she pursued roles in movies like Striptease and G.I. Jane that “portrayed her tough, harder side,” says a top Hollywood director. Both films flopped. “It’s good to see her getting something lighter,” he adds. “Demi needs a movie that brings out the vulnerable side of her.”

Her villainess in Angels satisfies at least the first part of the prescription. Moore agreed to take the role at a meeting at Barrymore’s house. “We wrote the part for her,” says Barrymore. “We had to say, ‘Please trust us.’ ” Moore, who turned down a host of offers during her hiatus, liked the idea—and the 20-day shooting schedule. “Being a mother is her No. 1 priority,” Angels director McG says of Moore, who brought her brood to the set during a roller-derby scene. “They were running around the track being chased by the Steadicam operator,” says McG. “It was a real blast.”

Barrymore, 27, couldn’t agree more. On-set, Moore was “very focused” but “incredibly kindhearted,” she says. “There’s nothing cold. Yet there’s an ultimate strength there. You look at her body and her soul and all that she’s done and think she’s created these three extraordinary girls, and it makes her seem enviably accomplished.” On the professional front, “she was a huge influence in my life. She changed the business for women as far as saying women can get paid the same as men,” says the younger actress, noting Moore’s prowess as a producer. (Her company Moving Pictures brought the Austin Powers movies to the screen.)

For years Moore’s self-confidence was bound up in her roles—and her body. Under the tutelage of trainer Rob Parr in the early ’90s, she biked or hiked for up to two hours a day, six times a week. “On the day she gave birth [to second daughter Scout], we did a 22-mile bike ride in the morning,” says Parr. (During those days she also quit smoking, an unhealthy habit that has returned.) But Moore feels her motivation was misconstrued. “The perception was that I was so in love with my body,” she told InStyle in 2000, “when in reality I was trying to overcome my insecurity” about stardom.

Moore has found motherhood a far more comfortable role. “She’s a really involved mom,” Campbell says. “At one soccer game a kid got hurt, and she was the first one to the kid, worried about the child.” Often Willis is by her side. At school functions “they’ve gone from sitting far apart to sitting together,” says a fellow parent.

In her downtime from being Mommy, Moore shops for vintage clothing. She also tried her hand last year as a costume designer for a local theater group. Even if she pulls off a Hollywood comeback, says her pal Todd, Moore likely won’t leave her own private Idaho. “Maybe it’s what other people take for granted,” Todd says. “It’s a little slice of normal life.”

Samantha Miller

Vickie Bane and Kwala Mandel in Hailey, Lorenzo Benet and Todd Gold in Los Angeles and Jeff Truesdell in Orlando