The R-rated 'Betsy's Wedding' and 'Total Recall' (1990)

For, Friday, March 20, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: I feel as if I’ve spent most of my career at the Deseret News complaining about the rating system. Nothing seems to change much, as demonstrated by this July 15, 1990, ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column headlined ‘Words weigh as much as vile acts in flawed rating system.’ This was obviously written before the board began adding summary explanations to each rating, and before the NC-17 replaced the X.

The movie rating system has long been questioned by moviegoers who find it confusing and attacked by critics who find it inequitable.

Despite occasional alterations, the ratings never seem to be easily understood — and in this summer of carnage and mayhem they have become more confusing than ever.

To my mind, though, the rating system's greatest disservice has more to do with mainstream movies that carry an R than with out-of-the-mainstream films threatened with an X.

The latter problem is the subject of much critical outrage in the national press, but it doesn't affect most moviegoers, those who don't attend films at art houses such as Salt Lake's Cinema in Your Face!

But the complexities of the R rating do affect the average moviegoer.

Simply put, how can "Total Recall" and "Betsy's Wedding" carry the same rating?

Or "RoboCop 2" and "Quick Change"?

Or "Die Hard 2" and "Crazy People"?

Or "Another 48HRS." and "Pretty Woman"?

To understand how much contrast there is in each example, it should be explained that the ratings board has long said it rates movies exclusively on the basis of content. That is, how much violence or sex or nudity or profanity, etc., does a specific film contain?

To use the two most recent examples, why are "Betsy's Wedding" and "Quick Change" rated R? Because they use a particular profanity several times. There is nothing else in either film that would warrant an R rating — in fact, both are more likely in PG territory.

But the ratings board feels that this profanity — which could be called the Eddie Murphy Word — when spoken more than once is itself worthy of an R rating.

That can be awfully misleading, however. For example, audience members who look at the rating on "Quick Change" as they make their weekend moviegoing decision may think there's a graphic sex scene or perhaps a gory death or maybe some extensive nudity to account for the R. But there isn't. Just the Eddie Murphy Word, used a few times.

And the same can be said for "Betsy's Wedding."

"Total Recall," on the other hand, is perhaps the most violent R-rated film ever made, and there is also sex, nudity and wall-to-wall use of the Eddie Murphy Word.

"RoboCop 2" is extremely gory, shows explicit drug abuse and also uses the Eddie Murphy word throughout the film, including its being spoken frequently by a young boy of 11 or 12.


Two more 1990 R-rated films, 'Quick Change' and 'RoboCop 2'

These four movies being lumped in the same category is absurd.

If the PG-13 rating was truly designed to catch films that fall somewhere between an R and a PG, "Quick Change" and "Betsy's Wedding" should both be there.

The national press, however, is more concerned about the X rating slapped on such recent releases as "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down," "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" and "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," among others.

These movies were rated X by the ratings board but each film rejected that rating and went into release unrated, with a warning that no one under 18 would be admitted.

Why an X instead of an R? Each movie was deemed by the ratings board to have gone further than the parameters of an R allow. But should they be branded with an X, when in the minds of most people that means pornography?

Clearly the films in question are not pornography. They are serious pictures by serious artists. Whether they are objectionable or worth seeing is subjective, of course, but the filmmakers' intentions are not pornographic. (Films that are pornographic do not go through the ratings board; those films' producers self-apply X ratings. The "X" is the one rating not registered as a trademark by the Motion Picture Association.)

So there is a clamoring among critics nationally to see an "A" rating replace the X. The A would mean the same thing — no one under 18 admitted, the A standing for "Adult." And the X would be the exclusive domain of pornographers — which it is anyway.

It seems obvious that the rating system is seriously flawed. An A rating would help, but a serious examination of the R rating is also in order.