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Modern movie trailers tastelessly push the boundaries

Posted: February 21, 2016 8:09 a.m.
Updated: February 21, 2016 8:09 a.m.
Chris Hicks/

This is the "green band" that precedes trailers in movie theaters these days, whatever "appropriate audiences" might mean.

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Sitting in a movie theater a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were enduring the long lineup of trailers that always precedes the feature — a lineup that seems to be exponentially growing, by the way.

There were seven by my count. Soon, the combined trailers will run longer than the feature.

Anyway, we were a bit surprised by what we saw. And especially by what we heard.

Waiting for “Hail, Caesar!” to begin — the Coen brothers’ PG-13-rated comedy — it was a bit of a shock to find ourselves watching sleazy trailers for the kind of movies we tend to avoid.

Well, actually, that wasn’t the surprising bit. We often find ourselves subjected to previews of coming attractions that are not the least bit appealing — but in these there was foul language that is usually, or at least used to be, censored for the trailers.

“Hail, Caesar!” the film we came to see, is pretty tame in terms of content, aside from a few double-entendres and the stray cuss word. Heck, there’s more profanity in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

And, as it turned out, there was more in these coming attractions. Well, in three of them, each of which began with that green card that assures us they are “approved for appropriate audiences,” whatever that means.

The first of these was a preview that begins as a straight-faced lampoon of self-serious documentaries about the Big Bang theory, narrated by a synthesizer/Stephen Hawking-style voice. Then Ben Stiller pops up on the screen as Derek Zoolander and engages in some goofy banter with the voice about the title of “Zoolander No. 2” — after which, the voice says, “You are so freaking stupid,” but begins that comment by using the name of Jesus Christ as an expletive.

Up to that point I was chuckling at the trailer, but hearing that exclamation was a bit of a shock. Of all the words or phrases that might have been used, they choose to defame a name worshipped by Christians all over the world in a two-minute preview? Really?

Then, mixed in with the other trailers were two for R-rated raunchy comedies, “The Boss” and “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” Both previews were filled with offensive in-your-face material, and both also included language I don’t think I’ve ever heard in a trailer before.

“The Boss” is a Melissa McCarthy vehicle, and in the trailer she twice uses a common swear word meaning feces — the second time in a room full of children during a Girl Scouts-type meeting.

Twice we also hear the familiar profanity that actually means female dog, as well as crude references to co-star Kristin Bell’s anatomy. If that’s not enough, McCarthy also gives a child coffee laced with bourbon.

“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is a sequel to the 2014 “Neighbors,” with Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne reprising their roles as a suburban married couple with a newborn child. In the first film, they were living next door to a party-animal fraternity led by Zac Efron. The sequel, as the title suggests, switches it to a sorority led by Chloe Grace Moretz.

In this trailer, we hear the same words used in the trailer for “The Boss,” as well as others, including coarse slang for women’s breasts. There is also underage drinking and recreational marijuana smoking.

All of this is to be expected in the context of the films themselves. In fact, if you go to an R-rated movie, you should plan on hearing this kind of language — and much worse — sometimes in a steady two-hour stream.

And by the way, I’m not being naïve here. I know there’s an audience for these movies and that some of them are hugely popular.

But in a two-and-a-half minute trailer, especially one shown before a tame PG-13 movie, this kind of language seems wildly inappropriate.

Worse, this is obviously a trend that’s ramping up.

As someone who chooses to avoid these R-rated comedies, it’s especially disconcerting to be pummeled by trailers that wallow in excess in as graphic a manner as the Motion Picture Association of America will allow.

But adding profanity to the mix makes it seem as if these advertisements are aggressively trying to keep moviegoers away.

If that’s the case, it’s working for us.

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