IT CAME AS NO SURPRISE that there were police cars parked outside Lakewood’s Regency Eight Theatre last Saturday night. These days, cops have become almost as common at movies as popcorn and Raisinets.

And for good reason.

Los Angeles has become a city filled with a lot of high-strung folks and it’s not uncommon to hear about shootings and violence at movies. You can be shot for a lot of reasons — wearing the wrong colors, sporting a Raiders football jacket or, worse yet, admitting that you liked “Body of Evidence.”

So when it was recently announced that the Regency Eight would be the site of the West Coast premiere of a new movie process that would allow members of the audience the opportunity to instantaneously change the course of a film’s action , you had to wonder if this could be dangerous.

After all, when a person can be shot or punched out for something as innocent as talking during a film, you can imagine the danger involved in making a decision regarding something as monumentally important as a film’s plot point.

THE FIRST OF THIS NEW BREED of interactive films is “I’m Your Man,” a 20 -minute action movie spoof that offers audience members — utilizing state-of-the-art laserdisc technology — more than 60 chances to change the film’s story line. Sort of a ’90s twist on those other less-than-successful attempts at audience involvement — 3-D and Smell-O-Vision.

And with a rabid, rowdy audience that makes Arsenio Hall’s wolf pack look well-behaved, what goes on is a cross between the Roman Circus, “Love Connection ,””Let’s Make a Deal” and a screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” all rolled into one.

That’s why it was comforting to know there were police nearby, just in case any violence did break out, even though it turned out the cops were only at the mall to pick up a pizza and had no interest in the film. Fortunately, there were three young foot soldiers from Creative Artists Agency there, obviously searching for the next film industry trend. While not quite as comforting as having the police on hand, it was better than nothing, especially if they were trained in Aikido — like their boss, Michael Ovitz.

Inside the theater, a man with a microphone addressed the unruly throng — a lot of whom appeared to be refugees from the nearest video arcade. He explained the rules of the game before the movie began.

“This is just like what you get to do with your remote control at home, only better,” he told the audience. “You can channel-surf and graze all you like.”

The audience members were instructed to vote by pushing one of three colored buttons–on the pistol grips wired to each seat–to follow the exploits of the three characters: Jack, Leslie or the villain, Richard. Throughout the movie, they could also vote to change which character was followed. Of course, shouting and yelling was encouraged.

“Who here has seen the Jack ending?” the man with the microphone asked.

“It sucks,” yelled an 18-year-old, wearing a “Bush for President” T-shirt. He had seen the movie 14 times and was planning on staying longer, perhaps until the next election.

“Jack is a weenie,” he shouted.

“Yeah, well, so are you,” a woman yelled back at him. “Why don’t you go home?”

AFTER THE RULES WERE EXPLAINED, the film started and the audience members began banging away on their pistol grips.

At one point in the film, Jack, being chased by the villain, ran to the edge of a building and turning to the audience, asked, “Should I run like a rabbit, jump across to the next building or turn into a special agent?”

The audience then got 10 seconds to vote. After the instant tally, Jack turned into a special agent, disarming several of his pursuers. This did not sit well with the teenager who thought Jack was a weenie.

“You’re a bunch of idiots,” he said. “I want to see Richard kill him.”

Asked why he came to see “I’m Your Man,” touted as the next important step in the evolution of film, much like the introduction of sound, the teenaged Bush supporter admitted, “I couldn’t get into ‘Loaded Weapon.’ “

Another member of the audience had his own reason for buying a ticket.

“It sounded like a good place to meet women,” admitted Steve, a divorced mechanic in his early ’50s. “They did say it would be interactive.”

And although Steve didn’t get to interact with any women that night, he thinks the new film process has potential.

“This will be great for porno films,” he said, excitedly. “Think of the possibilities. A woman could be …” His voice trailed off as got up and walked away, obviously still considering the possibilities.

Meanwhile, onscreen, Richard, the villain, stood in an elevator with an old lady, and began whacking her with his umbrella.

“Kill her,” the audience screamed, as if they were Romans watching a Christian being devoured by lions.

The only thing missing was Julius Caesar with a pistol grip.

And so, for the first time in movie history, say the creators of this new technique, the audience is empowered with the ability to shape and direct the course of what they’re watching.

Whether this is such a good idea is debatable. If professional filmmakers occasionally can’t figure out how to shape and direct the course of a movie, is it a good idea to let an audience of 18-year-olds do it?

On the other hand, if this idea catches on, think of the possibilities. Maybe this column can be written by a large group of yelling, overwrought people who all want to be journalists. So, grab your pistol grips and make your selection.

Should the column:

o continue for another 3,000 words?

o be a round-up of Academy Awards predictions?

o end right here?

The choice is up to you. Make your selection. The editors are waiting.

Ten … nine … eight … seven … six …

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