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Paramount to critics: ‘G.I.’ no

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With more than $300 million in production and marketing spending on the line for the opening of ‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’ this Friday, Paramount has a message for critics: Go see the movie with everyone else.

A spokesperson for the studio confirmed that there will be no screenings for reviewers at print and broadcast media outlets, meaning they’ll have to go on Friday along with regular moviegoers.

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It’s not that uncommon for studios to keep low-budget genre and family films away from critics, since they don’t always need national media exposure to reach their target niche. Last week, for instance, both Fox’s ‘Aliens in the Attic’ and Freestyle Releasing’s ‘The Collector’ weren’t shown ahead of time.

It’s highly unusual, however, for big-budget event movies that need to attract the widest possible audience to be kept in the closet. ‘G.I. Joe’ is the first this year. Even films for which studios likely expected the savage reviews they received, like Fox’s ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ and Paramount’s own ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,’ were fed to the critics’ maw ahead of time.

Paramount’s decision appears to be one they wanted to hide from the media for as long as possible. Just last Thursday, a publicist at the studio told Times critic Betsy Sharkey via e-mail, ‘We are setting the screenings now and will let you know.’ Sharkey is one of several critics contacted by Company Town this morning who hadn’t yet been told by Paramount that they won’t be seeing the film.

Of course, that decision doesn’t apply to all outlets. Reviewers at several of the biggest fanboy websites, including Ain’t-It-Cool-News, Hitfix, JoBlo, Dark Horizons, and Chud, have seen ‘G.I. Joe’ and all given it a thumbs up.

Not showing the movie to traditional media fits the studio’s larger strategy, as reported by the Times on Monday, to largely avoid national press in big cities and promote the movie directly to the heartland. Other unusual parts of that approach have included premiering the movie at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, sponsoring a Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock concert tour, and running the first ever movie ads on digital billboards in numerous small markets.

If Paramount’s bet is right, the blue-collar, middle America audience they’re targeting will embrace the picture and positive word-of-mouth will far outweigh whatever harsh words critics have on Saturday. If not, well, ‘G.I. Joe’ might just be in for a ‘Bruno'-size second-day drop.

--Ben Fritz

Related: Paramount Pictures waves the flag for ‘G.I. Joe’


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