How 'Hardball' Landed a Softer MPAA Rating
by Patrick Goldstein
As recently as one month ago, Paramount studio chief Sherry Lansing was touting "Hardball" as an uncompromising R-rated movie with a no-holds-barred look at a desperate gambler (Keanu Reeves) who finds redemption coaching a baseball team of 10-year-olds from the Chicago projects. The movie had reams of foul language--from the kids--and a graphic shooting.
However, earlier this month, in something of a no-holds-barred meeting with studio brass, director Brian Robbins was told to cut the movie so it could get a PG-13 rating.
The 11th-hour move is just the latest example of how much post-FTC-report marketing restrictions have affected studios' ability to promote R-rated films to young audiences. Earlier this summer, Touchstone Films released "crazy/beautiful" as a PG-13 film, even though the teen drama had originally been filmed as an R-rated movie. If "Hardball" had kept an R rating, Paramount would be unable to advertise the film on many key youth-oriented TV outlets, including MTV shows like "Total Request Live." Having a PG-13 gives the studio a broader marketing reach. As it turns out, Robbins got a PG-13 by simply cutting out 20-plus uses of a certain curse word, which according to Motion Picture Assn. of America rules, is only allowed to appear once in a PG-13 film, and only in a nonsexual context. The other language used by the kids, which includes words not suitable for The Times to print, were allowed to stay in the film, as was the violent scene.
Robbins said Paramount had a research screening of the new version of the film, and it earned significantly better test scores than at previous screenings. "I have to admit it works better now," he says.
Robbins says he wouldn't have re-cut the movie if he felt it changed the tone or veracity of the story. "I feel OK about the new version. It's still basically the same movie, and now maybe more people will have a chance to see it. My only problem was about the process. We discussed the ratings issue before we made the film, and I just wish this could have been decided back then, instead of at the last minute."
Paramount executives say they didn't force Robbins to make any changes. So why did the studio wait so long to have Robbins re-cut the movie? "As the movie came together and we did more work on the marketing, we kept asking ourselves, 'Who's the real audience for the movie?"' explains Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Friedman. "We thought the movie had such positive values that it was the kind of film we wanted to encourage parents to take their teenagers to see."