- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

Describing some of the gags in the new PG-13 movies “Land of the Lost” and “Year One” in a family newspaper requires a delicate touch - and a strong stomach.

In “Lost,” the female lead, Anna Friel, gets groped by a half-man, half-monkey creature, and star Will Ferrell pours dinosaur urine over himself before traveling through a creature’s intestinal tract.

“Year One” goes further, showing co-star Michael Cera, the sweet-faced new dad from “Juno,” relieving himself - on himself - for what seems like ages. The film also features a fight between the Bible’s Cain and Abel that crosses way over the line from slapstick to cruelty.

Yet both boast ratings that allow audiences of any age to check them out. The battle over the PG-13 rating is raging again.

Visitors to movie-ticketing site Fandango, which covers more than 16,000 screens across the United States, left a disproportionate number of negative user reviews regarding the films’ ratings.

“If this is a PG-13 movie,” one visitor said of “Year One,” “the rating system is a waste of time.”

As for “Lost,” another moviegoer reported leaving the theater midway through the film and noticing others doing the same.

Liz Perle, editor in chief of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that provides family-centric film reviews, said 67 percent of visitors to her organization’s Web site thought “Year One” included inappropriate sexual behavior.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, a PG-13 rating advises parents to determine whether the movie is appropriate for children younger than 13.

“There’s always boundary-pushing,” Miss Perle said. “The job of parents is to not throw in the towel and do nothing. Involve your children in the decision-making. Tell them your values.”

And research any movie your children seem eager to see, she said.

“The price you pay for a free and open media is homework for parents,” said Miss Perle, whose group distributes its ratings via Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

Scott Robson, editor in chief at Moviefone, said frustration over the ratings system remains a problem for families and the film studios.

Filmmakers don’t like having to go back and recut their films to land a particular rating, while audiences bemoan the “highly imperfect system,” Mr. Robson said.

Mr. Robson, who is a father, said parents must take precautions before dropping off their children at the local cinema.

“It’s on me to decide if it’s something for my child to see,” he said, adding that his site and other online resources review most current films.

As a parent, he said, “you don’t have to walk in cold.”

Joan Graves, chairwoman of the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board, said PG-13 is “the rating that leaves a lot of responsibility in the hands of the parents.”

The board, she said, has not received complaints about either “Year One” or “Land of the Lost.”

Ms. Graves said she understands the potential confusion over “Lost,” especially given the harmless nature of the source material. But she noted that the PG-13 rating for that film states that it was applied because of “crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference.”

Changing the ratings system is always an option, Ms. Graves said.

Another problem, Ms. Graves said, is that it is logistically challenging to ask teens to prove their age when most of them don’t carry reliable identification, such as a driver’s license.

Anne Beatts, who won an Emmy for her writing for “Saturday Night Live,” said “Lost” and “Year One” reflect a coarsening of modern culture.

“I feel like things are coming more in line with the realities of actual society,” said Miss Beatts, an adjunct professor at the University of California’s School of Cinematic Arts. “We’re moving to a more liberal society.”

The material in films like “Land of the Lost” is hardly new to today’s teens, she said.

“I think parents are deluding themselves if they think their children are not aware of these things,” said Miss Beatts, whose bigger concern involves on-screen violence.

“I don’t mind if there’s a few poop jokes,” she said, especially since those gags amuse younger audiences.

Radio talk show host and syndicated columnist Michael Medved said that adding another layer to the ratings system would only confuse audiences.

“In a reasonable world, we would have another rating - one that’s not so misleading as ‘PG-13,’ ” said Mr. Medved, who suggested an “R-13” rating to keep younger viewers from seeing movies like “Year One.”

Mr. Medved said many parents don’t have enough time to scour the Web for in-depth reviews that might warn them away from films like “Year One.”

“The PG-13 rating has become a weapon in the hand of every 10-year-old in the country to say, ‘Hey, it’s rated PG,’ ” he said.

Moviegoers liberal and conservative alike might find common aesthetic ground on the latest wave of PG-13 comedies. Both “Year One” and “Land of the Lost” got hammered by critics.

“It seems that, very often, films pushing the envelope in this regard are awful,” Mr. Medved said. “The only thing they have going for them is, ‘We’ll sneak in more racy concepts.’ ”

Mr. Medved doesn’t expect much action from pro-family groups - already engaged on multiple fronts by Obama administration policy challenges - against films like “Lost” or “Year One.”

But perhaps audiences are practicing the most effective form of protest: voting with their feet. Box office returns have been dismal for both films.

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