Originally created 07/06/99

Stopped at the door



They watch it every Wednesday night on Comedy Central. They hear the swearing, see the cartoon violence and probably understand most of the innuendoes.

But they won't be seeing the South Park movie in theaters -- unless their parents buy the ticket.

"ID? No, I don't have ID," says Robert Humphreys, 14, to the Regal Cinemas ticket-seller. "But my mom's coming, she's parking the car."

"Well, then you'll have to wait until she gets here," says Veeta Scott, from behind the ticket window.

Frustrated, Robert and his 15-year-old friend Tasha Tally move aside to wait.

"It's stupid," Tasha says of the rule prohibiting those under 17 from seeing R-rated movies unaccompanied by an adult. "We cuss at school, it's not like we've never heard the language before. So why should it matter?"

But theaters across the country are cracking down on ticket sales to underage teens, thanks to a push by President Clinton to reduce young people's exposure to violence.

In the wake of two high school shooting incidents this spring, Mr. Clinton challenged the movie industry to enforce ratings more strictly. His challenge led to a pledge last month by the National Association of Theater Owners to require photo identification from young people seeking admission to an R-rated film.

A prominently displayed sign in both sales windows at Regal proclaims that you must be at least 17 or be accompanied by a parent or guardian to go to an R-rated movie. But it doesn't stop people from trying.

"ID? Um, I don't have it with me. But I promise I'm 17."

"Oh, I must have left it in the car."

"But I just showed it to you a few minutes ago -- you don't remember me?"

Sorry. No ID, no ticket.

"In some ways it's good," 17-year-old Daniel Beaufort says of the rule. "It keeps the little children out. Well, it makes it harder for them to get in, anyway. If you had asked me last year, I probably would have said it was stupid."

Daniel and friends Paul Phifer and Stephen Holmes, also 17, had to show their drivers' licenses to buy South Park tickets. But they say they don't think it will make a difference in society.

"They show them on TV anyway," Paul said. "As long as there's TV and video, underage kids can watch R movies."

They also say, jokingly, that the crackdown will create a black market for movie tickets.

"If some kid offered me $20 to buy him a ticket, sure, I'd do it," Daniel said.

Scott Bagwell, general manager of Evans 12 Cinemas, said the theater has been strict about enforcing ratings ever since it opened.

"We've had problems with Scream, Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Varsity Blues -- any of those movies they make where they orient them toward kids, but then they put enough cussing and brief nudity in it to earn the R rating."

But even when employees are successful in preventing younger teens from buying R-rated tickets, he said, it's difficult to catch the "cross-overs" -- those who buy a PG ticket, then sneak into an R movie.

"That's very hard to stop," he said. "You'd almost have to have 12 doormen, one at each entrance, to keep that out."

Filmmakers who make movies for young people should edit them to earn a PG or PG-13 rating, Mr. Bagwell said.

"Like that movie The Haunting that's coming out. It's rated PG-13, and it's a horror film. They don't have to show all the stuff they show, and they can still do business."

Rush Hour, an action movie last year that starred Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, could have easily been R-rated, he said.

"Because they kept the four letter words to a minimum, it got a PG-13, and it was a huge success," he said. "Why put the content in the movie when they don't need to? Some need to have it because of the story they're telling, but those are for adult audiences."

Emily Sollie covers teen issues. She can be reached at (706) 823-3340 or esollie@augustachronicle.com.