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Jewish World Review June 25, 2001/ 4 Tamuz 5761

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Fast and furious about Hollywood's hypocrisy --
Warning: Lousy movies cloaked in moral concern may be hazardous to your intelligence

So this is what "corporate morality" looks like. In a bold move that proffers new oxymoronic opportunities, the movie industry is following tobacco's lead by issuing warnings along with its toxic products.

The new warnings are a step beyond the familiar R-rated labeling or caveats of sex, violence and, my favorite, adult themes. These are more in line with the surgeon general's tobacco warning, as in: "What you're about to see is amorally inane, tasteless and without redeeming social value, and is probably hazardous to your psyche, but, hey, it's a free country, so have at it. Just don't say we didn't warn you!"

Sentiments to that effect characterize warnings from Universal Pictures as it releases "The Fast and the Furious," a drag-racing flick that might be subtitled: "The Idiotic and the Absurd." Loaded with late-night, adrenaline-pumping street racing, the PG-rated film portrays drag-racing as fun 'n exciting, while its stars (Vin Diesel and Paul Walker) are sexy guys who doubtless suffer no dearth of chicks. Anybody still awake out there?

The film's marketing, of course, is directed heavily toward teens (who else would watch this dreck?), yet glamorizes just what teens aren't supposed to do: drive fast without seat belts. One scene has a driver zigzagging beneath a speeding tractor-trailer.

Pure nonsense, pure entertainment.

Which is perfectly fine. I'm all for the occasional mindless entertainment. Even kids deserve and recognize mindless entertainment when they see it. So why does Universal insist on taking itself so seriously?

Perhaps, in part, because of the heat coming from Washington. Just one day before the movie's release on Friday (JUNE 22), four members of Congress led by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) sent a letter to President Bush, asking him to support legislation that would punish media outlets for marketing adult themes to children.

Whether drag-racing is an adult theme is debatable, but a weak debate would ensue over whether American movies are becoming increasingly vacuous. Rather than worry whether a bad movie is bad for kids, couldn't we just make some good movies? Is it possible that the movie industry could find more inspiring ways to blow $38 million than to show bad boys stunt-driving?

Executives obviously anticipated criticism for glamorizing a dangerous, illegal activity attractive to young American males, already an endangered species, and created a public-relations campaign as a pre-emptive, if comical, strike.

On the film's promotional Web site, for example, is a disclaimer in the spirit of "Don't Try This at Home, Kids." It reads: "All of the racing stunts in 'The Fast and the Furious' were performed in a staged environment by professionals with years of training and experience. Please do not try any of these yourself. Be smart. Drive safe. Stay legal."

Universal also got stars Diesel and Walker to record public-service announcements encouraging safe driving. The announcements will be shown on the Web site, possibly aired on radio stations, and later included in DVD and video releases of the movie.

All things considered, it would have been easier to not make the movie. In any case, Universal could have made a better movie - a poignant comedy about hypocrisy perhaps - by pointing a camera at its own executives as they discussed ways to make a bad movie seem less bad by cloaking it in moral concern.

Rather than warning kids not to mimic fake people in a make-believe movie, they should apologize for insulting their intelligence. Kids aren't dumb; people are.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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© 2001, Tribune Media Services