These movies are all R-rated, but don't despair. Some offer high drama and deep insight for perceptive teens.
"The Chamber" (R, 1 hour, 53 minutes)
This solid but uninspired adaptation of John Grisham's 1994 novel offers teens plenty to ponder about race relations and the justice system. The title refers to a Mississippi prison's gas chamber and the rating reflects searing racial and anti-Semitic epithets, strong profanity, crude language, a graphic depiction of an execution and a bloody suicide scene.
Sam Cayhall (Gene Hackman), an aging, foul-mouthed Ku Klux Klansman, is on death row for the bombing (shown in flashback) nearly 30 years before of the office of a Jewish civil rights lawyer. The lawyer was crippled and his two children killed. Sam claims he never intended murder and his estranged grandson, Adam (Chris O'Donnell), a lawyer, comes to plead for clemency. O'Donnell seems earnest but out of his depth and Hackman slightly miscast. "The Chamber" hasn't nearly the impact of "Dead Man Walking" (R, 1995), but it may get some teens thinking.
"Get on the Bus" (R, 2 hours, 2 minutes)
It's October 1995. A cross section of African-American men board a chartered bus in south-central Los Angeles and roll eastward toward the Million Man March. Strong language, verbal sexual innuendo and graphic anti-homosexual slang make this an R film, but, as with "The Chamber," it offers thoughtful teens a smorgasbord of racial, social and emotional issues to chew on.
Director Spike Lee moves things along well, allowing his terrific cast to develop their characters in full melodramatic form around Reggie Rock Bythewood's theatrical, sometimes preachy screenplay. First, an estranged father and son (Thomas Jefferson Byrd and DeAundre Bonds) climb on board, handcuffed together because the boy's on probation; then an old man (Ossie Davis) who missed the 1963 March on Washington and plans to attend this one or bust; then a cocky, homophobic out-of-work actor (Andre Braugher); then a gay couple (Harry Lennix and Isaiah Washington) who won't take his attitude. The idealistic bus driver (Charles S. Dutton) holds it all together. His relief driver (Richard Belzer) is Jewish, concerned about anti-Semitic statements of march organizer Louis Farrakhan and uncomfortable with the attitudes of some of his passengers. (This character, not too sensitively written, is likely to earn Spike Lee more criticism over portrayals of Jews in his films.) "Get on the Bus" rolls along to an emotional and prayerful conclusion -- a timely exhortation to do the right thing.
"The Ghost and the Darkness" (R, 1 hour, 44 minutes)
An old-fashioned adventure based on a true story, this movie features thrills and chills rather than blood and guts. It might entertain teens with a taste for history and exotic locales.
In East Africa in 1896, an engineer (Val Kilmer) and a big-game hunter (Michael Douglas) team up in pursuit of a bloodthirsty pair of lions that have killed 130 railroad workers. The Kilmer-Douglas relationship lacks an edge, but the movie is visually stunning, crisply written and a mighty good yarn. The lions attack in slow motion to imply mayhem without really showing it. We do, however, see blood and bits of skin in the aftermath and one ripped throat. Though it has Great White Hunter types as its heroes, the film's narrator is black South African actor and playwright John Kani, who plays the engineer's assistant. And the barely contained tensions between Africans, workers from India and the British colonials who oversee them adds some healthy perspective.
Beyond the ratings game
Fine for 6 and older:
"Fly Away Home," PG (Grieving girl finds solace raising orphaned goslings in touching, thrilling tale. Accident shown that caused mother's death. Rare mild profanity.)
Preferable for 8 and older:
"D3: The Mighty Ducks," PG (City kids' hockey team proves itself at snooty prep school in predictable sequel. Good ice action, but silly stereotyping. Rare crude language.)
More preferable for 10 and older:
"That Thing You Do," PG (Band gets hit single at height of Beatlemania in fun rock 'n' roll fable. Rare crude language; cigarette, liquor consumption.)
"The First Wives Club," PG (Middle-aged ladies lose paunchy middle-aged husbands to younger, less ladylike ladies. Older ladies get even in fun farce. Profanity; mild sexual innuendo; homosexuality discussed.)
R's for consideration:
"The Long Kiss Goodnight" (Schoolmarm Geena Davis snaps out of amnesia, realizes she's a former CIA assassin. Samuel L. Jackson as lowlife private eye helps her find herself in dopey action flick. Bloody, neck-breaking violence; profanity; sexual innuendo. Teens, if at all.)
"The Glimmer Man" (Steven Seagal breaks arms, Keenen Ivory Wayans cracks jokes in tacky cops-vs.-serial-killer caper. Graphic violence, bloody crime scenes with crucified victims; strong profanity. Older teens if they must, but why bother?)
"Big Night" (Wonderful human comedy about Italian brothers running restaurant in 1950s New Jersey. Profanity; sexual innuendo. Most teens.)
"Extreme Measures" (Unoriginal but intense medical thriller. Gruesome symptoms shown; moderate violence; profanity. Most teens.)
"Last Man Standing" (Gunfighter faces off against rival mobs in '30s Texas. Gorgeously shot, but lacks wit. Violence not bloody, but noisy. Explicit sex scene; profanity; mutilated ear. Mature teens.)
"2 Days in the Valley" (Hit man's mayhem brings strangers together fatefully in slick, too-clever comedy-thriller. Graphic violence, explicit sexuality, nudity, strong profanity. Mature teens only.)