Friday, October 31, 2008

Kevin Smith, the art of raunch, and the problem with PG-13

The saddest news out there today is that after abusing Mike Judge's wryly funny "King of the Hill" for 13 years now, Fox has finally pulled the plug, effective at the end of this season. After the way it's been treated with the often nonexistent post-pro football slot, you could really probably call this a mercy killing. Besides, 13 years is a pretty darn good run.

And Mike Judge will be OK, with a feature film, "Extract," hopefully soon to come out in more than Austin and L.A. before hitting DVD. Starring Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Kristen Wiig, Clifton Collins Jr., Mila Kunis and (huzzah!) J.K. Simmons, all I really know about it is that Bateman plays the owner of a flower extract factory. Mr. Judge will also be returning to animated TV comedy with something called "The Goode Family" coming soon to ABC.

But all that's not the order of the day around here. In honor of Kevin Smith, who I still have loads of time for when he's not simply rehashing his own movies, it's all about R-rated comedies in which the R is squarely for raunch. And before you say that's too harsh, look at his last three movies: "Clerks II", "Jersey Girl" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." Though both of the sequels-of-sorts were funny enough, he's definitely in need of a new crowd, which he has now with Seth Rogen and the utterly charming Elizabeth Banks (more on her later) for "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

It's sad that Smith squandered the opportunity he had such a big hand in creating with the current wave of R-rated comedies that throw in just enough heart to make the crude go down as almost sweet. My brother thinks Kevin Smith is just, using language Mr. Smith would surely appreciate, "a tool", but I'll definitely turn out for his new one this weekend (even if I will probably be shamed enough to ask the inevitably teen clerk simply for a ticket to "Zack and Miri," as unable to bring myself to use the taboo word "Porno" as the network TV ads are.)

My main point in this admittedly rather disjointed diatribe, however, is that the PG-13 rating - a shameful ruse for many reasons - has watered down the art of true raunch to the point that it just becomes silly juvenilia (though I admittedly often have a stomach for that too.) Here's a test in the form of my 10 favorite raunchy movies, in no particular order. Can you pick out the only one that's not rated R?

Animal House
Bad Santa
Super Troopers
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
Blazing Saddles
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

And the answer? I thought for a second it might be "Superbad," but Jonah Hill's tirade about the "Ghostbusters lunchbox dick treasure chest" among many other gems made that one thankfully too rude for PG-13. The answer is "Airplane," which I haven't seen for a while, but I guess must be fairly tame by today's standards.

"Airplane" earned a PG rating four years before the PG-13 rating was created, on July 1, 1984 - a truly dark day in my book.Why? Well, you'll find I'm more than a little conflicted about it, but I think both sides I cling to are right, so bear with me.

My main beef with PG-13 is that it's so arbitrary. It was created, according to Wikipedia, in response to the violence in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Gremlins" (really? WTF?!?!) Since then, however, it has clearly become a toilet for really gross "horror" movies and teen "comedies" that test the limits of taste without taking any time to think about such trivialities as much of a plot.

At the same time, however (remember, I said I'm very inconsistent on this), PG-13 movies too often just don't go far enough. I still find that woman in "Clerks" dryly explaining that she "manually masturbates caged animals for artificial insemination" for a living and the perpetually 8-year-old Stan looking for the clitoris in "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" to be extremely funny, and I hope I always will.

I suppose that's just the built-in problem with the middle ground: It may be the best way forward, but it will always leave increasingly both grumpy and old men like me complaining. The bottom line is, even if "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" will probably top the box office yet again, I'm glad Kevin Smith is back with a lot of raunch, a little smarts and a little more heart, and I hope a lot of people turn out for "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

And I'll close with a bit more about Elizabeth Banks, easily my favorite comic actress working today (though Anna Faris is rising in the ranks too). She was rather severely underused in "W.", but you're about to see a lot of her: This week in Smith's flick, next week in the extremely silly but hopefully fun (and yes, R-rated) "Role Models" with Paul Rudd, and early next year in the horror movie "The Uninvited" with David Strathairn and Emily Browning (Violet in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events).

I don't turn out for horror movies much any more (the last one I saw and kind of enjoyed was J.A. Bayona's "The Orphanage), but with that cast I'll give this one a chance. Here's the trailer, which does indeed make it look like it might be a cut above the gore-over-suspense fare that passes for most "horror" flicks nowadays. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend.


Sterfish said...

The PG-13 rating wouldn't be so bad if Hollywood hadn't decided that damn near every film had to be rated that way. G and PG are supposedly too kiddie for teens and R keeps them out of the theater without an adult. The other problem with the rating is how studios will edit down R-rated material to fit a PG-13 rating.

It's interesting, though, how much Hollywood has been able to stretch that rating. You can get away with a ton of violence as long as there's no blood and it isn't graphic. You can curse up a storm provided that you avoid most sexual terms and the f-word (or only use it once in a non-sexual capacity). I believe that if The Dark Knight were released back in 1984, it would've probably gotten an R-rating.

There are definitely good uses to the PG-13 rating but they're overshadowed by what Hollywood has done to it.

Reel Fanatic said...

Very well put, Sterfish ... It does indeed seem like as much as 80 percent of the movies that come out get a PG-13 rating, and can that many movies really be appropriate for ages 13 and under? Not bloody likely

Mercurie said...

I think for a degree that the ratings have always been somewhat arbitrary (I did a post on them once). I remember, the first "grown up" movie I saw was Logan's Run, which includes nudity. It was rated PG (there was no PG-13 in those days). Today, I suspect it might be rated R. And I think to some degree too many times the genre of the film plays a role in its ratings. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is violent, yet every film received a PG-13. The Dark Knight also received a PG-13. Why? I suspect it is because one is a fantasy trilogy and the other a superhero movie.

Reel Fanatic said...

The first "adult" movie I can remember seeing was "48 Hours," which my parents rather inexplicably took a young me and my even younger brother to see way before we should have .. To top it all off, if my memory serves me right, someone was smoking pot in the back of the theater, so just an all-around odd night for kids!

Anonymous said...

It seems that films in recent years have been stretching the PG-13 rating to its limits. A couple of you have mentioned how The Dark Knight feels R, but aside from the "magic trick" and maybe Two-Face's appearance, there's really nothing else that would push it into R territory. I guess the gritty ambiance of the film lends itself beyond PG-13 material.

But speaking of questionable ratings, The Passion of the Christ is a perfect example of an NC-17 caliber (or X) film, but since it is about Jesus, it got an R. Roger Ebert said as much in his review.

Reel Fanatic said...

For the gore and many other reasons, V-knowledge, I'm one of the very few people in the world who never bothered to see "The Passion of the Christ," and I'm still not convinced I missed anything worthwhile

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