A priest, a rabbi, and a tiny monkey walk into a movie theater. Late. The priest answers 7.5 calls on his cell, and the rabbi, who's seen the movie before, repeatedly yells out plot points (''Laugh now, you'll be dead soon, sucka!''). The monkey...well, the monkey is quite well behaved, but audience members are so tense over the anticipated disturbance they can't really watch the movie. Luckily they know how it ends, thanks to the rabbi.
Moviegoing, in all seriousness, has become a joke. The shout-outs, the conversations, the bawling babies, the occasional gunfire, all add up to one rotten punchline: You've paid good money to be annoyed for 90 minutes. ''I used to think it was just kids, but lately it's older folks too,'' says Dr. Robert Butterworth, a psychologist who tracks attendee behavior. ''We've all lost our civility here.''
We at EW are just sick of the whole business, which is why we're offering these basic rules for gracious viewing. It's our courteous way of saying, Just shut the #@~* up.
Play the quiet game. See the pretty people up on the big glowing movie screen? They're talking too. We call that dialogue. When you talk, we can't hear what the pretty people say. We miss the plot. Plus, we don't care about your controversial views on goat cheese. Also, appreciate your PSA, but I know there's a bad guy around the corner. I see him. Our heroine doesn't, but she can't hear you. I can. As for cell phones, unless you are a board-certified brain surgeon, you should never pick up the call. And if you are a board-certified brain surgeon, why are you at ''2 Fast 2 Furious''?
Please don't hurt me. Some folks have a bristling, baffling sense of entitlement: If, during the course of the movie, they feel compelled to talk, chew, argue, guffaw, kick the back of your seat, and make cell calls, they will. They don't get sheepish when shushed. You're the rude one. Call them Belligerent Angry Surly Types Acting Rudely Defiant -- or BASTARDs. Theater chains ask that you inform them of BASTARDs rather than handling the situation yourself. That puts you in the dubious position of sending a 17-year-old usher into battle -- an honor student and Eagle Scout who now, thanks to you, might be shot. Or at least slapped in an unmanly fashion. And that would definitely detract from your moviegoing experience.
There's a place where you can eat a three-course meal. It's called a restaurant. The people who incessantly crackle their candy wrappers at inopportune moments are bad enough. Usually a pointed stare can nip that in the bud. (But, you know, why can't they open the freakin' wrapper before the movie starts?) However, the growing trend of smuggling big buckets of smelly fried chicken, mysterious meat spreads, or entire dim sum banquets into theaters and then spending the entire movie chowing down must stop. Now. Apparently this is perfectly fine in Hong Kong; we can put you in touch with Cathay Pacific.
Respect my space. Sitting down: the new rocket science. Since this has become such a challenge, here's some advice. First, unless the movie's sold out, I will find you freaky if you sit right next to me. Strangers should observe a minimum three-seats-between rule. Second, if you come in late, you've forfeited your right to a middle seat. Should you try to pass me, I will be one of those jerks who turns her knees only slightly to the side, thereby making you one of those jerks who scatters his popcorn on the people in the row ahead while accidentally stepping into some lady's purse. Third, I do mind moving down. I'm not going to sit next to the man in the trench coat who's rubbing pudding on himself just so you and Bunky can hold hands. And finally, when passing in a narrow aisle, remember this: Your crotch points away from my face.
Don't put baby in the corner (or anywhere near me). Extended exposure to Vin Diesel is harmful to all of us, but especially little people. And by little people I don't mean little people (necessarily). I mean infants. Babies cry and wet their pants. They are crass, and they don't know their place. Which, by the by, is not at a picture show. ''We discourage it, and we'll caution a guest that if a disturbance occurs, we'd appreciate their [leaving],'' says Rick King of AMC theaters, the Silence Is Golden chain. ''In some states, it's illegal to prevent it -- age-discrimination laws have actually been applied to infants.'' He's serious. In California, you can't discriminate against babies. Even though they all look alike.
And don't think you're off the hook if the kid's out of diapers: Just because you can take your toddler to ''Dismemberment High 3'' doesn't mean you should. ''The money these people are saving on a babysitter, they'll need for a shrink to treat their 3-year-old who's traumatized because he saw something horrible on screen,'' Butterworth says. I say shrinks all around! I remember seeing ''Unfaithful'' with what seemed to be a middle-school birthday party. Toward the end, after all that housewife-on-Frenchboy sex, a little blue balloon drifted poignantly past the screen. We all lost some innocence that day.