HOLLYWOOD -- The urban action movie "Juice" will not open until Friday, but its advertising campaign is already stirring up emotions, based on the violent experiences that surrounded the openings last year of "New Jack City" and "Boyz N the Hood."
"I hear it's a pretty good movie," said Mike Salgado of the Anaheim, Calif.-based Parents Against a Gang Environment, ". . . but the trailers seem to show it as a gang movie."
"Juice" is the story of four young men facing wretched conditions on the streets of Harlem. Peer and societal pressures lead to a robbery and shootings. The title is meant to suggest power, and who has it.
"How far will you go to get it?" is the question asked in ads for "Juice," created by the movie's distributor, Paramount Pictures Corp.
But the question others are asking is, how far will Paramount go for juice at the box office?
Ads for the film show the four leading actors -- Omar Epps, Khalil Kain, Jermaine Hopkins and Tupac Shakur -- in a blue haze, with the name of the film in red. Those are the two primary colors of prominent rival street gangs in Los Angeles.
An earlier version showed one of the men brandishing a pistol. A Paramount spokesman said that the gun was removed from the ads before they were to have been released publicly. Both versions were published in an entertainment industry newspaper, the Hollywood Reporter, on Friday.
The movie's TV ads and theater trailers also have been criticized for emphasizing the film's elements of violence. As a result, there is widespread concern that "Juice" will lead to a repeat of the violence thatmarred the openings of "Boyz N the Hood" and "New Jack City."
"We're not against the film because it tells the truth, we're against the violence they [the ads] promote," said William Upton, the head gang and drug counselor for the Los Angeles-based Mothers Against Gangs in Communities. "The trailers show the action-packed aspects, not the other parts which are positive. . . . Hollywood has learned that the best [advertisements] are the violent ones. . . . Paramount is probably happy that all this talk is going on."
A Paramount spokesman, however, said that the trailer for the movie being shown in theaters and on TV "represents all elements of the film's story line."
Paramount Motion Picture Group President Barry London, in an interview, said that the movie is "first and foremost about peer pressure, and one person looks to rise above it. All that is very well represented in the ad campaign. . . . I think it is quite a statement against violence."
But London acknowledged that "certain movies have an ability to attract certain audiences. And, unfortunately, a potential exists for violence in this society."
Lost in the controversy, which is gaining growing media attention, is the movie itself. The early word on it from movie theater exhibitors who have seen it is that it is a powerful film, with a strong, anti-violence message.
One film industry executive, who wished to remain unnamed, pointedly noted that ads for a current film, "Kuffs," show star Christian Slater carrying a pistol, "but it's a white face with a smile."
Both "Boyz N the Hood" and "New Jack City" were considered by most film critics to be strong entertainment with anti-gang and anti-drug messages. Both were financially successful. But both also attracted violence and shootings on their opening nights.
In both cases, the distribution companies, Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros., decried the violence and maintained that the films themselves were not the cause of the trouble. The studios attributed the violence to crowd control and offered to pay for extra security at the theaters.