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Puzzled at the multiplex
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2000
Two questions popped up recently that deserve answers:
1. Why is Regal Cinemas' Hollywood 20 megaplex in Tampa closing after this weekend?
2. Dude, Where's My Car?
More precisely, why was a preview for this racy comedy shown at a local theater before Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas?
Let's take them one at a time.
The end of Hollywood 20 bucks the latest trend in theater chain belt-tightening. Not so much the closure, but how many auditoriums there weren't being filled often enough.
Older multiplexes nationwide -- usually 10 screens and under -- have shut down operations in recent months, rendered obsolete by megaplexes with more screens, atmosphere and amenities.
Tampa Bay last witnessed the trend in October when AMC Theaters' Countryside 6 and Clearwater 5 closed. AMC preferred to devote its money to construct and operate new sites such as Oldsmar's Woodlands Square 20 and WestShore 14.
It's a common rule of economics: If a business doesn't attract customers and make profits, lock the doors.
Remarkably, that was the situation at Regal's Hollywood 20.
"In our restructuring, that theater was identified as an underperforming location and targeted for closing," said Dick Westerling, senior vice president of marketing and advertising for Regal Cinemas.
But, how? This is an honest-to-Dolby megaplex with 20 screens, nice seats and plenty of neon and fake chrome. The kind of theater that causes others to close shop, not one that should itself fail.
"That's not the type of scenario we've seen across the country," Westerling admitted.
"I'm aware there have been other situations (like this) across the country. It is unusual for a theater of this size (to close), but it's not isolated."
But it seems that way to Mary Ann Grasso, vice president of the National Association of Theater Owners, which charts the total number of U.S. screens annually.
"We usually get notice that the baby ones -- 8 or 10 screens -- are closing, but I don't recall one that size before," she said.
Westerling said Hollywood 20 couldn't keep up with its nearest competitors, AMC Veterans 24 and Regal's own Citrus Park 20.
"There was some cannibalization in the marketplace with other theaters that were built," Westerling said. "The market dynamics changed after we committed to the project."
Some dynamics are obvious. Hollywood 20 is located in a shopping plaza, not a big mall like Citrus Park 20. Nor does it have a bunch of different restaurants nearby, as does Veterans 24. Moviegoers couldn't get the whole package, so to speak, at Hollywood 20.
Closing Hollywood 20 is just one local problem Regal has encountered in recent weeks. The planned December debut of Tampa's Channelside entertainment and shopping district has been pushed to Jan. 12, 2001.
That delay comes after the Channelside project owners, Orix Real Estate Equity Corp., took control of Regal's 10-screen theater because of Regal's possible bankruptcy plans.
Westerling said Hollywood 20's closing has nothing to do with Channelside proceeding.
"The events around the closing of this theater don't affect other construction in the market," he said.
PG-13s aren't created equal
Now, about those dudes and their missing car . . .
A colleague reported that a trip to see How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Muvico Bay Walk 20 turned risque during previews for coming attractions for Dude, Where's My Car?
The 2-minute trailer spells out the plot: Teenage headbangers get stoned and drunk, lose their car and wind up cavorting with strippers.
To some parents, profanity, sex and drug abuse don't seem like appropriate topics presented before a family-friendly show like Dr. Seuss' tale. Especially with all the talk lately about how Hollywood will stop marketing adult-themed films when children are likely to see the ads.
There are two reasons theaters can get away with promoting Dude, Where's My Car? any time they wish:
1. It's rated PG-13, not R, meaning it is deemed appropriate for viewers over 13.
2. Violence isn't a key element of the film's plot.
In September, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report titled Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children, urging Hollywood to stop peddling violent R-rated movies to kids. The concern was not sex, nudity or drug use in films. Just violence.
The Motion Picture Association of America quickly suggested initiatives for studios and theater owners, each dealing exclusively with R-rated films and violent content.
Again, nothing about sex, nudity or drugs. Just violence.
See for yourself at the MPAA's Web site: http://www.mpaa.org/jack. Therefore, showing the Dude, Where's My Car? preview before a PG-rated movie doesn't break any promises to moviegoers or politicos. Whether such a film should be rated PG-13 is an entirely different question.
Preview selection is often a matter of conscience, and sometimes people need a little help with that.
Further, theater operators may not have a choice in the matter. Studios often attach previews for upcoming releases onto films and theaters are obligated to show them. Otherwise, theaters decide what previews to show and when.
If you think a preview trailer is inappropriately placed, go straight to the general manager -- not an usher -- and complain. The last thing a theater needs these days is to seem as if it's corrupting America's youth. Griping will probably make a difference.
This is one time when talking in theaters might count for something good.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.