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Parents' Guide

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There’s a bounty of kid flicks in theaters this month, with hardly a turkey in the bunch. Laughs abound as comics Whoopi Goldberg (The Associate), Greg Kinnear (Dear God), and Bill Murray (Larger Than Life) headline the multiplex. Teens hungry for meatier fare can dig into the powerful Mel Gibson hostage drama, Ransom, or Jada Pinkett and Queen Latifah’s bad-girls heist movie, Set It Off. Seconds, anyone?

THE ASSOCIATE
What It’s About: To compete with the Wall Street big boys, financial wiz Laurel Ayres (Whoopi Goldberg) invents a heavy-hitting male partner, a ruse that puts her company on the map.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Yes, especially older girls, who’ll admire Laurel’s brains and moxie.
MPAA: PG-13.
Sex/Nudity: Scantily clad exotic dancers.
Drugs/Alcohol: Cocktails all around.
Violence/Scariness: None.
Objectionable Words/Phrases: About 45.
Lesson to Extract: The women who used to be behind those great men have now turned into them.
Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.

DEAR GOD
What It’s About: Con man-turned-postal worker Tom Turner (Greg Kinnear) starts answering letters to God from the needy and ends up working some minor miracles.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Yes — this feel-good comedy delivers, and Kinnear’s wry wit keeps it from descending into sap.
MPAA: PG.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Drugs/Alcohol: Tom sits down to have a beer with a loan shark and some wine with a date.
Violence/Scariness: None.
Objectionable Words/Phrases: About 15.
Lesson to Extract: God works in mysterious ways.
Appropriate Ages: 10 and up.

HIGH SCHOOL HIGH
What It’s About: Idealistic teacher Richard Clark (Jon Lovitz) takes a job at an inner-city high school where the students’ minds aren’t the only things that are dangerous.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Yes, they’ll give this spoof from the Naked Gun folks high marks for humor, but be warned: There’s nothing funny about the movie’s rampant violence.
MPAA: PG-13.
Sex/Nudity: A glimpse of Clark’s bare butt after his pants are burned.
Drugs/Alcohol: The plot involves a major drug deal; the punch at a dance and coffee in the teachers’ lounge are spiked; the school has a malt-liquor vending machine; Clark gets drunk after being fired; a student (Mekhi Phifer) takes a drink.
Violence/Scariness: Guns and knives are more common than pencils; one student tries to rape an administrative assistant (Tia Carrere); another two who play chicken behind the wheel could spur copycat mischief.
Objectionable Words/Phrases: About 35.
Lesson to Extract: If you’re cuffed to your desk, you have to work twice as hard to reach your students.
Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.

LARGER THAN LIFE
What It’s About: Motivational speaker Jack Corcoran (Bill Murray) struggles to deal with an unexpected inheritance — a circus elephant named Vera, that’s still pining for her late owner, the father Jack never knew.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Yes. Vera has tons of charm and Murray knows how to play to the peanut gallery.
MPAA: PG.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Drugs/Alcohol: Guests drink at a party.
Violence/Scariness: None.
Objectionable Words/Phrases: Nine.
Lesson to Extract: Elephants never forget.
Appropriate Ages: 6 and up.

RANSOM
What It’s About: Mogul Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson) turns the tables on his son’s kidnappers (headed by Gary Sinise) when he offers the $2 million they demand as a bounty on their heads.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Yes, but don’t let them. Youngsters may have nightmares about being kidnapped themselves.
MPAA: R.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Drugs/Alcohol: The kidnappers drink on the job; cocktails at a party.
Violence/Scariness: The Mullens’ deep anguish is wrenching after their son (Brawley Nolte) disappears from a science fair in the blink of an eye; heartbreaking scenes of the boy being held prisoner, blindfolded and tied to a bed; half a dozen fatal shootings; Tom’s wife, Kate (Rene Russo), is beaten by Sinise’s ringleader.
Objectionable Words/Phrases: More than 100.
Lesson to Extract: Good behavior — rather than bad — should be rewarded.
Appropriate Ages: 17 and up.

SET IT OFF
What It’s About: Convinced that the only way to beat urban blight is to rob banks, girlz in the ‘hood Stony (Jada Pinkett), Cleo (Queen Latifah), Frankie (Vivica Fox), and Tisean (Kimberly Elise) decide to do just that.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Teens will like this all-too-rare female buddy premise, but the film’s air of desperation makes this often grim actioner unsuitable for younger kids.
MPAA: R.
Sex/Nudity: A woman having sex bares her breasts; Stony’s bare buttocks during sex; Cleo fools around with her lesbian lover; Stony prostitutes herself.
Drugs/Alcohol: Plenty of marijuana and liquor.
Violence/Scariness: Many bloody and fatal shootings.
Objectionable Words/ Phrases: Countless.
Lesson to Extract: There’s no easy way out of the ghetto.
Appropriate Ages: 17 and up.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO & JULIET
What It’s About: The MTV generation’s version of the classic weeper, in which the star-crossed lovers (Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio) tote guns and wear Dolce & Gabbana, and gospel singers croon ”When Doves Cry.”
Will Kids Want to Watch It? The nonstop action, quick cuts, and hip soundtrack are big teen draws, but style completely overpowers substance here, and the clash of iambic-pentameter verse with the film’s ultramodern take verges on laughable.
MPAA: PG-13.
Sex/Nudity: Romeo and Juliet fool around under the covers.
Drugs/Alcohol: Romeo pops a pill; Juliet’s mom and dad have drinks; cocktails at a party.
Violence/Scariness: Rival Capulet and Montague gang hostilities result in fatal shootings and bloody beatings; the lovers commit the requisite suicide, only this time Juliet shoots herself.
Objectionable Words/Phrases: None.
Lesson to Extract: Rent Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting instead.
Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.

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