A look inside Hollywood and the movies : PHANTOM SCREENING : You Haven’t Heard the Last About ‘Action Hero’

In yet another episode of the pre-opening drama behind the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Last Action Hero,” there is a heated dispute over whether or not Columbia Pictures had a second test screening of the upcoming release after a disappointing May 1 showing in Lakewood.

Varied sources, from actors, directors and film industry executives to social workers, body builders and dental technicians, reported that there was, in fact, another research screening at Pasadena’s UA Marketplace Cinema about two weeks ago.

And yet Columbia Pictures insists otherwise.

“It absolutely never happened,” said Mark Gill, Columbia’s vice president of publicity. “I was never told about a screening in Pasadena. If they had one, it was a super-stealth job.” Said the studio’s executive vice president of production, Barry Josephson: “It never took place. The movie is in pieces, being dubbed. You’re way off, I can assure you.”


Why would Columbia hide the fact that the screening took place? One plausible explanation is that audience reaction to the film was even less encouraging than what resulted from the May 1 screening.

“I don’t know how to respond to this, except in terms of ‘The Twilight Zone,’ ” added Sid Ganis, the studio’s president of marketing and distribution. “One day you will understand the truth of this matter and you will write an article about how people in this town invent things.”

But an employee of a Pasadena gym says he went to the screening, and offered a few comments about how the crowds were handled as well as his opinions of the film. A social worker who says she attended the Pasadena screening with her boyfriend said she was disappointed with the movie and chose not to fill out a response card when it was over as a result. Two other people claim they also attended the screening, two UA Marketplace Cinema employees admitted knowing about a recent “Action Hero” screening and numerous film industry sources have passed along reports about the screening and its test scores. No one would speak for attribution because they had been instructed by research officials not to share their impressions of the movie with the media.

An assistant manager at the UA Marketplace told a reporter that “a Schwarzenegger film” had recently shown there. A person who says he attended the “Action Hero” screening told the same reporter that he didn’t want to say anything negative about the film because he was a Schwarzenegger fan and felt it would be impolite. Another assistant at the UA Marketplace asked a reporter to leave the theater last Monday when he asked to speak to manager Tory Curtis about the alleged test screening.

Meanwhile, UA Cinemas executive Mike Doban said: “I know what goes on in all our theaters, and I can assure you that ‘Last Action Hero’ wasn’t screened in Pasadena.”

The rescreening of “Action Hero” reportedly took place to test new scenes shot after the May 1 showing drew a tepid response.

Reactions to a follow-up screening would undoubtedly have been helpful in fine-tuning “Last Action Hero,” which was scrambling earlier this week to make a June 3 exhibitor screening (it was scheduled to play for exhibitors at Pacific’s Cinerama Dome this past Thursday afternoon). The movie opens across the country June 18 on more than 2,000 screens.

It’s always possible that this whole thing could be a hoax, that all these unrelated sources could be part of a conspiracy to hoodwink the press. It’s also possible that Columbia executives, steamed that accounts about the May 1 research screening have turned up in The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly (as well as CNN’s “Showbiz Today”), are determined to prevent further leaks.

The truth about the alleged Pasadena screening lies somewhere “between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of the imagination. It is an area we call . . . the Twilight Zone.”

Where is Rod Serling when you really need him?