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VIEWING HABITS BEAR `CHAUVINISTIC' COMMENT OUT

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about "The Suits," men who attend male-chauvinist action pictures during the day and don't tell their wives they've been taking in R-rated movies. This is a phenomenon I've witnessed often enough over the years . . . usually during the summer. But some readers took me to task for what they consider my own brand of chauvinism.

While this phenomenon is mostly male and pretty much in the realm of R-rated action-thrillers, so far as I have observed anyway, it is less true of PG-13 rated movies, and I suggested that the calls I get asking if certain upcoming thrillers will carry R ratings come from men who are trying to decide whether to take their wives to these movies in the evening, or whether to sneak off and see the movies at early matinees.I concluded these observations by noting a most unusual twist on the subject - at least in my experience. Lately, I've been getting calls from women, asking if the upcoming adaptation of their favorite novel, "The Bridges of Madison County," will be rated R. And I speculated that perhaps they were planning to see it without their husbands - adding that their husbands would probably be grateful.

Since that column ran, it has been suggested by several readers that I am trying to perpetuate the stereotype that cinematic weepies are "Women's Movies" while kick-'em-and-kill-'em pictures are "Men's Movies."

Moi? Au contraire.

That would be pretentious - not to mention politically incorrect.

However, it was mostly men who attended "The Hunted" - the Christopher Lambert samurai picture that played last month - while it was a mostly female audience at showings of "Little Women."

Call me a male chauvinist pig if you like, but that's my observation - and it has been borne out in subsequent conversations I've had with moviegoers of both sexes.

Quite a few married women I've spoken with tend to roll their eyes and nod when I ask about their moviegoing habits with their spouses.

Here's the question: If the husband chooses, are you more likely to go to a slam-bam action flick, or a thoughtful romantic movie? That's a no-brainer, if ever there was one.

In fact, several women told me that their husbands would rather see a bad slam-bam action flick, than any Oscar-winning box-office smash that doesn't have a single car chase or explosion.

And most of these same women confessed that in the case of the quintessential women's picture, "Little Women," their husbands whined so much that they eventually saw it instead with female friends or relatives.

Ironically, several men who were dragged by their wives or girlfriends to "Little Women" confessed to me that they actually did enjoy the film - "mostly." But for some reason, they would still rather see a bad Jean-Claude Van Damme flick 20 times over before sitting through "Little Women" again.

This would lead me to believe that there are indeed "Men's Movies" and "Women's Movies," in addition to those that appeal to both.

And there is more evidence to bear this out.

Despite his trying to cross over into romantic comedy territory from time to time, the name "Arnold Schwarzenegger" is still synonymous with "action" - or maybe, "heads exploding."

So, when trailers (theatrical previews) came on the screen last year for "True Lies," you could hear the "ooohs" and "ahhhs" of men as they saw balls of fire rise in the sky and Schwarzenegger taking off in that Harrier Jet. And you could also hear the derisive laughter of women throughout the auditorium.

"True Lies" went on to become last year's third biggest hit - so men were apparently going to see Schwarzenegger for the second time as women were taking in "Forrest Gump" again.

Well, it may not be that cut and dried . . . but let's remember that when Schwarzenegger's romantic fantasy/comedy "Junior" came out at the end of the year - the one where Arnie got pregnant - it tanked.

Men want to see him blowing up bad guys, not giving birth.

And women? They don't want to see him at all.

So, are there movies for men and movies for women and never the twain shall meet? Of course not.

Although, I will admit that while my wife was watching "Sleepless in Seattle" the other night, I was in the next room watching "Die Hard."

But, hey - it was research. Getting ready for that third "Die Hard" flick this summer.

Movie critics do have research requirements, you know.

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Janeane Garofalo, scene-stealer as Randy Quaid's "date-from-hell" in "Bye Bye Love":

"It's easier to be good in small parts. We have no idea whether I'm any good at this yet. It remains to be seen whether I'll last in this business. Right now I'm all potential."