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Richard Roeper: Upcoming film has scene echoing theater rampage

A man walks by Century Theater day after deadly shooting Saturday July 21 2012 AurorColo. Twelve people were killed dozens

A man walks by the Century Theater a day after a deadly shooting on Saturday, July 21, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. Twelve people were killed and dozens were injured in the attack early Friday at the packed theater during a showing of the Batman movie, "Dark Knight Rises." Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

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One of the most highly anticipated movies of 2012 is “Gangster Squad,” the fictionalized biopic of Mickey Cohen starring Sean Penn as the gangster who ruled much of the L.A. underworld in the 1940s. The top-tier cast for the Sept. 7 release also includes Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie and Nick Nolte.

In the trailer for “Gangster Squad” that played in some theaters across the country last week, Penn delivers a chilling monologue (“Back East I was gangster, out here I’m God”) before we cut to snippets of dialogue, explosions, gunfire, car crashes, slow-motion fights, as Jay-Z’s “Oh My God” plays on the soundtrack.

And then, at about the two-minute mark, four gangsters enter a movie theater, stand behind the screen--and start firing their Tommy guns into the crowd.

By Saturday morning, Warner Bros. (the studio of “The Dark Knight Rises”) had made the decision to pull the trailer from theaters. The same trailer was also rendered unplayable on many online sites, though you still could find it here and there.

I read the screenplay for “Gangster Squad,” and the theater scene (“ONSCREEN GUNFIRE joined by ACTUAL GUNFIRE...Panicked PATRONS dive, crawling, scrambling toward the exits...) is a key sequence taking place fairly late in the action. No official word yet on whether the scene in question will be cut from the movie.

No matter. I can’t imagine Warner Bros. keeping the scene in the film. With “Gangster Squad” set for release only six weeks from now, it would take people out of the moviegoing experience and instantly remind them of the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colo.

It is of course a small thing in the grand scheme, but when there is large-scale tragedy, there is pop culture fallout.

In the wake of 9/11, Hollywood scrambled like never before to push back release dates, cancel projects, alter advertising campaigns. (In the original poster for the first “Spider-Man” movie, Spidey dangled from a web between the Twin Towers.) After self-appointed security guard George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, 20th Century Fox pulled trailers for the comedy “Neighborhood Watch” from Florida theaters and changed the title to “The Watch.”

If any other upcoming film or television show has anything even remotely resembling the horrific shootings at the screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” no doubt execs will air on the side of caution. It doesn’t matter that “Gangster Squad” is set some 60 years ago and that the movie theater shootout was filmed long before the tragedy of last Friday night. In the current context, it would come across as callous and tone-deaf to keep the scene in the movie.

No masks, no costumes

In a well-intentioned but hasty move that left plenty of room for interpretation, AMC Theaters said Friday it was banning patrons from wearing costumes or masks.

Sort of.

“We will not allow any guests into our theaters in costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable, and we will not permit face-covering masks or fake weapons inside our buildings,” read the statement.

Can’t imagine allowing someone to bring a fake weapon into a movie theater was ever an acceptable idea.

As for the costumes, who’s going to arbitrate the complaint if somebody complains about somebody’s get-up? And if someone wears a mask that doesn’t cover his entire face, that’s OK?

We come with these quick new rules to make ourselves feel just a little bit better. It’s the same mentality that has us taking off our shoes at the airport. Rituals that provide a razor-thin level of comfort but don’t really do anything to prevent the next act of madness by a lost soul.

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