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Film: Rating system provides no guarantee that you'll approve of what you see

Sunday, October 29, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Earlier this year, Hollywood executives admitted inviting children as young as 9 to test screenings of R-rated movies (no one under 17 admitted without a parent or guardian). Many such films get promoted on teen-oriented channels like MTV. And, while theater owners promise renewed vigilance, it has been all too easy for a teen-ager in a multiplex to sneak into an R movie.

So what recent releases at local cinemas might kids might want to see? And what potentially troublesome elements do those films contain?

"Bedazzled," a PG-13 comedy, stars Brendan Fraser ("Encino Man," "George of the Jungle") and sexy Elizabeth Hurley ("Austin Powers"). She plays the Devil in a red dress and tempts Fraser to sell his soul in return for seven wishes. Sexual material includes a married woman having an affair and a basketball player whose body isn't big everywhere.

Do teen-age boys like martial-arts movies? You would think they'd be interested in Jackie Chan's "The Legend of Drunken Master." But the movie is rated R, for good reason. Chan's character fights best when he's drunk -- he guzzles booze by the bottle and then plays it for laughs. The fights, in contrast, are so stylized as to blunt the violent effect.

"Girlfight," also rated R, tells the story of a girl who channels her anger by learning to box. The profusion of f-words typifies the film's rough setting. The lead character gets into fistfights not just in the ring but also at school and at home. Still, the movie's message of empowerment through discipline may be one that teens should hear.

"Pay It Forward," rated PG-13, seems aimed mostly at adults despite the presence of child actor Haley Joel Osment, who plays the son of an alcoholic single mother (Helen Hunt). Kids may find the movie preachy or Pollyanna-ish -- some adults have, despite the obvious pain of the lead characters, including Kevin Spacey as a teacher who offers an unsparingly graphic explanation for his scarred face. A dark film featuring a schoolyard beating and knife attack, it ends with a message of hope.

Among older recent films still drawing well:

"Remember the Titans" carries the mildest rating at PG. It's about the integration of a Virginia high school football team in the 1970s. There's some racial animosity at first, but it ultimately demonstrates that, sometimes, we can all get along.

"Meet the Parents," rated PG-13, remains the box-office hit of the fall. The mild sexual humor involves romantic leads Ben Stiller and Teri Polo trying to "do it" on a visit to her parents' house. Robert De Niro plays Polo's dad and occasionally turns the air blue, but for him this is restrained. Most of the movie consists of basic slapstick born of humiliation. What teen couldn't relate?

"The Exorcist" and "Lost Souls," both rated R, deal with demonic possession. The latter film shows mostly the aftermath of an exorcism, displays some appropriately strong language and features one point-blank shooting of a major character. "The Exorcist," of course, features spinning heads, devilish countenances, pea soup vomit, Mercedes McCambridge growling nasty words and devilish physical violence. It still scares the pants off people, almost 30 years after its original release. Many teens, no doubt, have already seen it on video.

"Ladies Man," an R-rated comedy, is based on a "Saturday Night Live" skit and contains gross sexual humor -- jokes about doggy-style sex and a nun discussing missionary positions, a naked man fleeing an angry husband, a poop-eating scene. We all assume teens flocked to see the gross-out hits "American Pie" and "Scary Movie." But do they still watch "SNL"? Will they want to see this movie? Do you think the people at "SNL" hope so?

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