Friday, July 30, 1999

Summer's R-rated films tempt teens


Some get past age restrictions

BY CINDY KRANZ
The Cincinnati Enquirer

moore
Jennifer Moore, 14, was turned away when she tried to enter an R-rated movie for this report.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        As the nation debates the effect of media on children, Hollywood keeps dishing out R-rated movies that appeal to teens.

        South Park. American Pie. Eyes Wide Shut. All summer box office hits. And now The Blair Witch Project, wildly successful in other cities, opens here today.

        Nationwide, theaters last month promised to require photo IDs for youths attempting to buy tickets for R movies. Local theaters appear to be cracking down on underage teens, although kids say enforcement is spotty.

        Last weekend the Enquirer sent five teens, with their parents' permission, to test whether they could buy tickets for R-rated movies. The teens, ages 14-16, were asked not to watch the R-rated movies.

RATED 'R'
  Why the current first-run movies got their R rating:
  American Pie. Strong sexuality, crude sexual language, drinking — all involving teens.
  Blair Witch Project. Language.
  Deep Blue Sea. Strong violence, profanity.
  Eyes Wide Shut. Strong sexual content, nudity, language, some drug-related material.
  Lake Placid. Violent creature attacks and related gore, language.
  South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Continuous extreme profanity and vulgarity, graphic sexual language, cartoon nudity.
  The Wood. Strong language, some strong sexuality.
        Teens under 17 are barred from R-rated films unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. None of the six was able to buy tickets for first-run movies at Showcase Cinemas in Florence, Western Hills, Springdale or Paramount's Kings Island.

        “I saw them asking everyone (for ID),” said Leslie Mungle, 16, who tried to buy a ticket for South Park at Florence. That hasn't been the case in the past. “I've seen so many people walk up and buy tickets without being carded,” the Lakeside Park teen said.

        No one is breaking any laws if they sell R-rated movie tickets to minors or if minors buy them. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) film ratings system is voluntary. It was meant to be a guide for parents.

        Despite the crackdown, kids are getting into R-rated

        movies. Adam Day, Delhi Township, bought a ticket for R-rated Shakespeare in Love at second-run movie house Danbarry Dollar Saver 12 in Western Hills.

        Whether teens can buy an R ticket depends on who is selling them, said the 16-year-old. “There's a couple of people that won't let you in. My friend's sister, who's 14, just saw two R-rated movies, American Pie and Lake Placid. She bought tickets.”

        Even if they are carded, teens report they can buy a PG movie ticket and slip into a R movie once they're past the ticket taker. “It's so easy,” said Brandon Rubinoff, 15, of West Chester. “They don't even look back most of the time.”

        The National Association of Theater Owners, which represents about 65 percent of screens in the United States, pledged to adopt the new photo ID policy in response to President Clinton's call for a more strictly enforced ratings system. Mr. Clinton's call came in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

        Local theater owners said they enforced the ratings system long before last month's announcement. “We've been strictly enforcing the policy ever since it was established,” said Dana Wilson, assistant vice president of corporate communications for Showcase Cinemas.

        Danny Heilbrunn, owner of Danbarry Dollar Saver 12, said his theaters have always asked teen-agers for IDs when they buy tickets to R-rated movies. (Although one teen purchased an R movie ticket there last weekend, another one said that's the only theater where he's been carded.)

R rating lures teens
        Moviemakers know the teen audience is lucrative — one that will return to see the same movie over and over.

        “I think there's very few people in Hollywood that have any scruples at all,” said Sallie Mungle, mother of Leslie.“It's about money. It's about greed. ... I think there's a way to entertain without constantly pushing the envelope.”

        But teens like pushing it.

        R-rated movies are forbidden fruit, said Dr. James Brush, a child psychol ogist with a practice in Monfort Heights. “The material is interesting to young teen-agers. Not only is it forbidden fruit, it's often active, violent, sexually oriented material that they're curious about and interested in looking at. Plus, if one friend has seen it, they talk about it.They don't want to feel left out.”

        Some teens said they don't pay attention to ratings. They just want to see a good movie. Others said the rating is exactly what lures them. “Because you can't get in it, it makes you want it more,” Brandon said.

        “Usually if you go to a PG movie, it just seems fake,” said Jennifer Moore, 14, of Woodlawn. R movies reflect teens' lives, she said.

        Teens often live vicariously through movies such as South Park and American Pie. “We want to be able to act like the people do in the movies. Sometimes we can't because our parents stop us,” said Ryan Broderick, 15, of Indian Hill.

Parents give permission
        It's not uncommon for parents to buy their children tickets to R-rated movies. That sends kids the message that it's OK to violate rules or that parents don't care, Dr. Brush said. On the other hand, he said, some parents think their children are ready to handle that material.

        Mike Scholl of Fairfield took his teen son to see Saving Private Ryan last year.

        “I wanted my son to see just how terrible war really is. Private Ryan showed a lot of realistic "blood and guts,' not just some actors falling over. The horror of war is foreign to most people on this continent, thank God, but should be shown so as not to let it happen.”

        Some parents accept that they cannot control everything their chil dren do, and buying them tickets at least ensures they know what movies their children are watching.

        Other parents yield because they know their kids will see the same movies when they come out in video or on cable.

        Nora Rubinoff, Brandon's mother, relies heavily on movie reviews and word of mouth from other parents when she decides what R-rated movies her son can see.

        Mrs. Rubinoff has told Brandon he can go to South Park if he can persuade his father to go with him, but he's forbidden from seeing American Pie.

        “If I say "no' to everything, I think I'm missing the mark. I think there are times I need to let something happen I might not be totally happy with or totally approve of,” she said. “At the same time I'm allowing this to happen, I want him to know I'm involved, I care, I know what he's watching and I want to talk with him about it.”

        Eric Chester, father of four teens, a motivational speaker from Denver who talks to teens and to parents, teachers and employers about teens.

        He says kids are lured to R-rated movies by television commercials, many featuring favorite stars from Party of Five and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Their friends talk about them.

        “Show me a middle school kid who hasn't seen Something About Mary, and I'll show you a kid that's not popular, he said.

Most frequent moviegoers
        That doesn't mean teens shun all movies that aren't rated R. Witness the popularity of Titanic and Austin Powers (both PG-13) among teens. Still, Hollywood shows no signs of letting up on R-rated movies that appeal to teens.

        The most frequent moviegoers are 16 to 24 years old, so if a movie studio wants a hit film, it has to appeal to that group, said Bill Romanowski, professor of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.

        The ID system will make it harder for kids to get into a theater, he said, but it won't prevent it.

        “Quite honestly, I don't think any system will prevent it,” he said. “This issue involves more than just the Motion Picture Association or your local exhibitor. It's an issue that involves families, churches and schools.”

       



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