'G.I. Joe' is AWOL for critics

Paramount decides not to screen pic before release

"G.I. Joe" is in hiding.

In a highly unusual move, Paramount will open its summer tentpole "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" on Friday without screening it beforehand for critics or other media.

Par execs say they are trying to protect "Joe" from the kind of critical savaging unleashed on its recent "Transformers" sequel.

Not that the toxic reviews have affected its boxoffice: "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" has taken in a mind-bending $810 million in worldwide boxoffice, including $388 million domestically.

Further, must-see interest for the first pure action movie in weeks is so high that many industryites foresee a $50 million first frame for "Joe." Generally, pics are kept from critics when it's feared that poor reviews additionally will hamper an opening that's already challenged by underwhelming public interest.

So what gives with the stealth theatrical landing for "Joe?"

"After the chasm we experienced with 'Transformers 2' between the response of audiences and critics, we chose to forgo opening-day print and broadcast reviews as a strategy to promote 'G.I. Joe,' " Par vice chairman Rob Moore told the Associated Press. "We want audiences to define this film."

"Joe" totes a reported negative cost of $175 million after a production arduous enough to spur ultimately erroneous reports of director Stephen Sommers being booted from the project. Its cast includes Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Marlon Wayans and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Sommers has said "Joe" isn't a "Bush movie" but one more attuned to the current administration. But Par is giving the film a decidedly Red State marketing campaign, and the pic's premiere was held Friday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Other than military personnel and focus groups, only bloggers including Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News have been shown the film, an effects-laden tale of high-tech military special ops inspired by co-producer Hasbro's G.I. Joe action figure. "Joe" was produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who also produced the "Transformers" sequel, another Hasbro co-production.

Meantime, critics appear unlikely to punish Par after the fact for its refusal to offer media screenings of the film.

"The angel on my shoulder who is above it all would like to say that it wouldn't affect my review, but of course it doesn't help with goodwill," Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday said. "But business is business. They've got a job to do, and I've got a job to do. I don't take it personally. I'd just have to see it the day of the opening."