‘American Psycho’: No Kids Allowed

Has the fate of “American Psycho” been sealed even before its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival?

The big-screen adaptation of the controversial, ultra-violent Bret Easton Ellis novel has been slapped with an ungainly NC-17 by the ratings board at the Motion Picture Association of America.

The film, the sophomore endeavor from Mary Harron (“I Shot Andy Warhol“), depicts the psychopathic behaviors of a Wall Street wunderkind (played by Christian Bale) who kills women in his off hours. It is scheduled to debut nationwide in theaters April 7.

Yet despite the flick’s subject matter, its NC-17 apparently wasn’t awarded for bloodshed, but for what the MPAA calls “explicit sexuality.” While the organization today declined comment, trade-paper reports says the ratings board frowned on a scene in which Bale‘s character engages in a not-too-ordinary threesome with two prostitutes.

American Psycho‘s” distributor, Lions Gate Releasing, meanwhile, is vowing to fight the NC-17 (which absolutely bars kids age 17 and under from buying tickets) and win an R (which lets kids buy tickets, assuming they’re in the company of adults) — with the film’s entire element intact.

“While we are thrilled that the MPAA has acknowledged Mary’s extraordinary sensitivity as both an artist and a woman in the choices that she made in her depiction of violence,” Lions Gate Co-Presidents Mark Urman and Tom Ortenberg said in a statement, “we still feel that that the scene in question is integral to her vision and to establishing the soullessness of the film’s title character.”

Added Jeremy Walker, a Lions Gate spokesman: “… Recutting the film is definitely not an option at this moment.”

While Lions Gate stands firm behind the final cut of “American Psycho” at this moment, many Hollywood analysts believe the studio will change its tune once — and if — its appeal is rejected.

“NC-17 is the kiss of death at the box office for any movie,” says Martin A. Grove, Hollywood.com box-office analyst. “The problem is, it limits the ability of the distributor to market the film to TV and newspaper. And without such marketing ability, no films is able to perform well in the box office.”

Adds Grove: “… Experience shows that almost any distributor in the face of a rejected appeal will back down and make whatever cut it takes to get an R rating.”

Another box-office expert agrees that an NC-17 rating would eat into the almighty box-office gross and appeal of the psychodrama.

“It Lions Gate leaves the film as is, they’ll definitely run into a couple of barriers,” says Gutesh Panaya, editor of the box-office tracking Web site boxofficeguru.com. “(A) You can’t sell your product in as many locations. (B) You can’t market it in as many places as your competitor. A lot of theaters, newspaper and television networks will not accept advertisement for anything above the R rating.”

Notes Panaya: “If Leonardo DiCaprio is in the film, and if they want to leave it as an NC-17, it’s a different story. My guess is that Lions Gate will eventually agree to make a small cut.”

Lions Gate, of course, originally announced the project as a Leo vehicle, only to see the “Titanic” star bail — and Bale cast instead.

If the company does release “American Psycho” as an NC-17, there is the chance, of course, that the rating’s notoriety could create the type of hype that even a meticulous marketing campaign couldn’t. Such was the case with Larry Clark‘s “Kids.” The 1995 flick about sex, drugs and the other illicit things kids do in New York City was a (relative) hit among teens precisely for its taboo NC-17 rating. The flick, which cost just $2.8 million to make and distribute, took in $13.8 million worldwide.

“In certain ways an NC-17 can help you out,” says Panaya. “It depends on the subject matter and what the film’s about. It depends on the reviews, how the studio markets the film, how it sells it to the public.”

For the time being, the film, in all its uncut glory, will be shown to the deal-making, power-mongering, industry-shaking players at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday.