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I was plenty offended by “Next Day Air’s” contempt for its characters. But the racism and sexism of this vile movie about dumb crooks and dumber would-be crooks and even dumber people who get mixed up with the first two groups is not as offensive as its contempt for its audience. It isn’t just insulting; it is boring. The ten zillionth time someone on screen said “Know what I’m sayin'” or “That’s what I’m sayin'” I wanted to stand up and yell, “No one has said anything!” Richard Pryor and David Mamet can make profanity into poetry, transforming a few simple explicatives into infinite varieties of expression. But the script here is slack and listless, throwing four-letter words, shotgun blasts, “what is he/she doing in this movie” moments, bad judgment, insults, and drugs around as if they are all inherently funny. Trust me, if you ever thought that might be true, this movie will prove once and for all that it is not.
Leo (“Scrubs'” Donald Faison) is a pot-smoking deliveryman for an overnight package service who has messed up so many times that his manager — who is also his mother — says he just one more complaint and he will be fired. So he immediately tokes up again and delivers a package to the wrong apartment. It should go to Jesus (Cisco Reyes) — who prefers to have his name pronounced the English way — and his girlfriend Chita (Yasmin Deliz). Instead, it is delivered to three failed bank robbers across the hall, one who sleeps through almost all of the movie, and his roommates, Brody (Mike Epps) and Guch (Wood Harris). They think they’ve hit the jackpot when they open it up to discover — guess what! drugs! So they call in Brody’s cousin Shavoo (Omari Hardwick) and his no-name sidekick to monetize their new asset. Meanwhile, big old meanie drug lord Bodega (Emilio Rivera) is very interested in getting his product back and every bit as interested in hurting anyone who might be in the way of achieving that goal. Mayhem ensues, and it feels like it takes forever.
Every single character is a grotesque stereotype, from the Latina spitfire who does the salsa as she cooks and calls her boyfriend Papi to the evil drug dealer, the dopey crooks who think they’re all that, and the shiftless package delivery guy and his angry black woman mother. Watching it is an excruciating experience. And then, to add insult to injury, the mindless comedy turns into a mindless shoot ’em up. Mark this package delivery refused.

Sometimes the mystery is better than the solution. This is one of those times.

Marvel Comics’ X-Men movie trilogy was about a group of mostly young people with special “mutant” powers who were either victimized by or exploited by “regular” humans. These powers were first presented in most cases when the unsuspecting mutants became teenagers. It was effective as fantasy and more effective as metaphor for the changes of adolescence. One of the few grown-up characters is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a cigar-chomping tough guy with indestructible claws that slide out from between his knuckles and the power to heal all wounds almost instantly — and large pieces of his memory missing, which is the source of some intrigue.

Now Wolverine gets his own spin-off and it is an “origin” story, which anthropologists and comic fans know is a prequel, an up close and personal look at the superhero’s backstory to give us some insights into what made Logan into his Wolverine-y bad self and a chance to feel knowledgeable when we see the experiences that led to the characteristics and events we already know. Aha, so that’s where the name comes from! And who was behind that operation? And when do we get to see that always indispensable origin moment — Wolverine primal screaming up into the indifferent sky?

The movie’s version of adamantium, that super-strong metal alloy that gives Wolverine the super-powerful skeletal structure and shooting claws, is its three leads, all superb actors as well as action heroes. Liev Schreiber plays Victor, Logan’s similarly-powered brother, and Ryan Reynolds is a motor-mouthed swordsman named Wade Wilson. The evil military man who presides over the hideous medical experiments is Danny Houston and Logan’s romantic interest is the criminally underused Lynn Collins. There are some striking fight scenes, I love the way Wolverine races toward battle, and it has the usual intriguing murkiness about who is on which side that energizes the X-Men stories. But it never taps into the deeper themes of mutantcy as metaphor and the reveals are not especially revelatory.

Patrick Swayze died today as he lived and performed, with class and grace.

Swayze’s association with iconic appearances in Dirty Dancing, Road House, Point Break, and Ghost
are so towering that we forget sometimes what range and skill he showed as an elegant drag queen in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar, as a motivational speaker with a dark side in Donnie Darko, and as an eager finalist for a job as a Chippendale’s dancer on “Saturday Night Live.” No one could say that line about putting Baby in the corner and make us believe it like Swayze. He was a superb performer and a class act. He handled his illness with dignity and courage. I wish there was a psychic like the one Whoopi Goldberg played in “Ghost” who could bring him back for just one more dance.

Top entertainment reporter/commentator for the LA Times Patrick Goldstein wrote a terrific blog post about my story on the MPAA’s secret change to the rules governing the content of trailers, calling the consequences of this change “a whole new level of unintelligibility.” My story in the Chicago Sun-Times and commentary here got nice mentions in Christianity Today (thank you, Brandon Fibbs), Reel Fanatic (thank you, Keith Demko), and Movie Marketing Madness (thank you, Chris Thilk). And thanks to Kevin “BDK” McCarthy for inviting me to discuss this issue in his weekly podcast.
I heard from the MPAA, too. Elizabeth Kaltman, MPAA vice president for corporate communications, who was quoted in my article, wrote a comment here on my blog post. Here it is in full, followed by my response:

Ms. Minow got it wrong. The MPAA’s Advertising Administration has not eliminated restrictions on film advertising; rather, we have further enhanced the process to ensure appropriate content is put in front of the right audiences. To be clear, what this means is that the content of the trailer is appropriate for the audience viewing the trailer with the movie they have chosen to see.

The intent of the change from “All Audience” tags to “Appropriate Audience” tags is to indicate to the audience that we consider the placement of the advertising material is appropriate for that audience, but that it may not be appropriate for all audiences. This change allows distributors greater freedom to accurately target and promote their movies, while at the same time honoring our pledge to parents that stronger advertising material will not reach younger audiences.

As Ms. Minow accurately points out, the Advertising Administration goes to great lengths to limit access to content which is intended for mature audiences.

Over the course of many years we have received feedback from parents that content for some movies in a trailer with an “All Audiences” tag was misleading. This new change reflects the Advertising Administration’s increased vigilance to target advertising to appropriate audiences, in keeping with the purpose of ensuring that advertising content reflects the true spirit of the film.

First, I want to thank Ms. Kaltman, who was extremely helpful and responsive as I was writing my article. I appreciate the difficulty of her position. I know how hard it is to have to try to justify actions and positions like the ones taken by the MPAA here. I well understand the techniques of spin and distraction. I appreciate that she has tried her best, but her comment further reveals the failure of any credibility in the MPAA’s arguments. She is unable to dispute any of the facts or arguments I presented.
Ms. Kaltman begins by saying I am wrong, but she then explicitly or implicitly concedes every point I made. She says “To be clear, what this means is that the content of the trailer is appropriate for the audience viewing the trailer with the movie they have chosen to see.” Well, if some determination has been made about the content of the trailer, why not disclose it? Since a significant number of movie trailers are assigned to films by the theater manager, wouldn’t it be helpful to them as well as to parents to have enough information to be able to understand the basis for the “appropriate” determination? She does not respond to my point that a trailer with PG-13-level violence could be paired with a movie like this week’s “The Informant!” that is rated R for language only.
Significantly, Ms. Kaltman does not address the two most significant objections I made to the policy. The first is that the prevalence of trailers online, uncoupled from any “appropriate” feature films, makes it impossible to limit them to “appropriate” audiences. Aggregator sites like Yahoo! Movies, Apple Trailers, and YouTube show dozens of trailers that can be accessed by anyone, so there is not way to limit them to “appropriate” audiences. She says:

The intent of the change from “All Audience” tags to “Appropriate Audience” tags is to indicate to the audience that we consider the placement of the advertising material is appropriate for that audience, but that it may not be appropriate for all audiences. This change allows distributors greater freedom to accurately target and promote their movies, while at the same time honoring our pledge to parents that stronger advertising material will not reach younger audiences.

But she does not explain how to ensure that “stronger advertising material” that “may not be appropriate for all audiences” will “not reach younger audiences” when they can access the trailers online without any guidance for parents at the beginning of the trailer about the “stronger” material it contains.
My second objection is to the MPAA’s decision to make this change without any public announcement, explanation, or opportunity to comment. In what way is this “honoring our pledge to parents?”
Ms. Kaltman was unable to find a single factual error in what I wrote. She objects only to my characterization of the change in policy as “eliminating restrictions.” In her view they have “further enhanced the process.” I believe the dictionary supports my language. Material that previously was not permitted in a trailer is now permitted. That is what eliminating restrictions means. It is now harder to figure out whether a trailer contains material that may not be suitable for all audience members. That does not meet any definition of enhancing the process. Trying to sneak this change past parents is about as far from an enhancement as it is possible to be. I believe the MPAA knew they were doing something parents would not like and that is why they did not tell anyone.
I have written to the MPAA to ask them to reconsider this decision and to make a commitment to public disclosure of any further changes to the rules. I have also written to the Division of Advertising Practices at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to ask them to investigate whether this change violates the rules about marketing inappropriate films to underage children. I have asked for meetings with both, and will keep you posted on any replies.

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