Pulse: Chatter: Movies: Puttin’ Out the Ritz

How a beloved art cinema was Transformer-ed into a popcorn playhouse

IT WAS DURING a Sunday afternoon screening of Spider-Man 3 that I knew the beloved Ritz 16 in Voorhees had gone to hell. The only theater in South Jersey where you could watch a film — foreign, indie, the occasional mainstream flick — in peace, the theater was bought in April by the National Amusements chain, which beefed up the blockbusters and allowed kids over 12 to roam without adult supervision. I tried to embrace the newly titled “Showcase at the Ritz.” Then the wailing began. Some clown had brought an infant to the movies. With that, our love affair was over.

Children under six are allowed in non-art films before 8 p.m., confirming my fears — and those of more than 70 others who’ve ­e-mailed National Amusements with complaints — about the “family friendly” admission policy that’s attracting more kids, and chaos, to the movie-snob mecca. “If we made a mistake, it’s that we still don’t really understand the violent reaction we received,” says National Amusements vice president Bill Towey.

The vitriol was enough to prompt NA president Shari Redstone to invite Ritz patrons to a rare “town hall” meeting in June for face-to-face venting, but it was postponed. Perhaps Redstone felt sick after reading Inquirer critic Carrie Rickey’s blog, which confirms that there’s plenty of outrage, and not all from kid-haters. “As a mother,” said a poster named Ellen, “I can testify that there’s nothing more family-friendly than allowing a parent to spend two hours in the dark every so often with no one demanding to be taken to the bathroom.”

A return trip to the Ritz was baby-free, yet the lobby felt barren, like all the bona fide film buffs had opted for Netflix. Towey still hopes to balance Transformers with less profitable art-house fare for diehards. “Maybe I’m not 100 percent happy from a ­busi-ness standpoint, and patrons aren’t 100 percent happy,” he says. “But we’re meeting in the ­middle.”