BOSTON — In the movie "Sweet Liberty" (1986), a college professor played by Alan Alda is told that the serious-minded movie script he has written about a Revolutionary War battle will have to undergo a few changes to satisfy young moviegoers. The formula must include characters who (1) destroy property, (2) defy authority, and (3) take off their clothes.
I've often thought this line must have been written by someone who had heard it uttered by a real Hollywood director or producer.
The current box-office champ of the summer silly season follows this formula. To little surprise, and powered by a mega-ad campaign, the retro-spy spoof sequel "Austin Powers" sped past "The Phantom Menace" in ticket sales last weekend.
"Phantom Menace" may be aimed at kids of all ages, but it's far too sober for its own good. What "Austin Powers" lacks in good taste (and it has plenty to offend), it makes up for in its joie de vivre. It wants to be nothing more than a bit of cheeky summer fun. School's out: Let's laugh.
One index to which movie is cool: Unlike its fresher "Star Wars" predecessors, "Phantom Menace" generates no memorable lines. Even people who haven't seen "Austin Powers" are saying, "Groovy, baby," "I call him mini-me," and "Oh, do behave."
The good news for moviegoers looking for something beyond these two blockbusters is that a lot of new movies are about to open. With "Phantom Menace" fans now beginning to be satisfied, studios will release 35 new films in July and August, 10 more than last year, according to the industry journal Variety. But find your favorites fast. With the intense competition this will create, any film that doesn't win a big audience immediately is likely to quickly be banished from screens to video-store shelves.
The debate over film and TV violence seems to have spread beyond the United States. This week the Supreme Court of Hungary prohibited the state-owned TV station from airing the "X-Files," one of the most popular shows there, before 11 p.m. It said the sci-fi mystery, which often contains disturbing and violent visuals, harms children's mental health.
The station will no longer buy new "X-Files" episodes.
And in Japan, television broadcasters are considering a set of guidelines that would have them pledge not to air programs inappropriate for children between 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., the AP reported this week. These shows were broadly defined as those that had "excessive violence" or "adult language." If enacted, these rules would mark the first time Japan has designated a time for "child friendly" viewing.
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