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American Pie, the raunchy teen sex comedy opening Friday, is aimed at moviegoers aged 15 to 24, its makers say.

One problem: Moviegoers under age 17 aren't (supposed to be) allowed to buy tickets to the R-rated flick.

One solution: Sell the film to the kids anyway and let their parents sort everything out.

That's the tact Universal Pictures is all but fessing up.

"There are a lot of kids that this movie will speak to who are not yet 17," studio marketing chief Marc Shmuger says in today's Wall Street Journal. "We think they'll figure out whether it's appropriate for them, and their parents will figure out whether it's appropriate for them."

Overall, Shmuger says, Universal believes that its Pie promo campaign (including, presumably, a sweepstakes sponsored by the manufacturer of a masturbation-friendly, sperm-catching washable sock) offers a "very responsible communication of our message."

If you've seen the ubiquitous MTV ads featuring a kid, Mom's apple pie and a tag line about loving (really loving) baked goods, you've probably deduced that the "message" is sex.

While raunchy teen sex comedies are as old as, well, raunchy teen sex--not to mention Fast Times at Ridgement High--R-rated films aimed at teens have the dubious distinction of being under intense scrutiny this summer.

Theater owners, spurred on by President Clinton and the post-Columbine High climate, say they're determined not to sell tickets to young'uns--a vow first tested (and sometimes subverted) by that other would-be warper of fragile, little minds: The South Park feature.

Like South Park, American Pie flirted with the deadly NC-17 rating. The live-action comedy, about a high-school virgin's quest to end his run as, well, a high-school virgin, needed four passes (including a trim of the pie-lovin' scene) before being granted the R. To the filmmakers, the rating was a magic--and coveted--one.

"Let's face it--high-school kids are raunchy...," screenwriter Adam Herz says in a profile on the movie's official Website (www.americanpiemovie.com). "To write a movie about sex and not have it be R-rated, you're not giving your audience enough credit."

Universal is giving the kids credit--and ample opportunity to be tempted by the flick.

As one 16-year-old from Georgia tells the Journal: "American Pie is probably the most talked-about movie today."