With more than $300 million in production and marketing spending on the line for the opening of "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" on Friday, Paramount Pictures has a message for critics: Go see the movie with everyone else.
A spokesperson for the studio confirmed that there would be no screenings for reviewers at print and broadcast media outlets, meaning if they want to see the film, they will have to go Friday along with regular moviegoers.
It is not 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 audience. Last week, for instance, both Fox's "Aliens in the Attic" and Freestyle Releasing's "The Collector" weren't shown to critics ahead of time.
It is 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 probably expected the savage reviews they received, such as Fox's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and Paramount's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," were fed to the critics' maw ahead of time.
Paramount's decision to not show "G.I. Joe" doesn't apply to all outlets, however. Reviewers at several popular Internet fan sites, including Ain't-It-Cool-News, Hitfix, JoBlo, Dark Horizons and Chud, have seen the movie -- and all gave it favorable reviews.
Not showing the movie to traditional media fits the studio's larger strategy, as reported by The Times on Monday, to sidestep the national press in big cities in favor of promoting 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 it is targeting will embrace the picture and engender positive word of mouth that will far outweigh any harsh words from critics. If not, well, "G.I. Joe" could suffer the same fate as "Bruno," which opened big at the box office but quickly fell off as negative audience reaction spread.