Sometimes they don’t screen movies.

Usually this means the movie
in question is terrible. The studio knows the movie sucks, knows that
it will get bad reviews and, rather than wear the egg of vitriolic
notices on their faces, will just hide the thing from critics. It’s a
way to control the buzz, although it also creates its own buzz – while
no one can cite specifically why the movie sucks, everybody can talk
about how it was hidden and so must really, really suck.

Sometimes a movie that doesn’t suck gets hidden. That happened, for
instance, with Crank. And it’s happened again with GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Sort of.

Last week the negative buzz about the film seemed to be reaching a
head, culminating in a USA Today article. It was then that Paramount
decided to show it to a select few folks. I was in Toronto, waiting for
a flight home from a set visit, when I heard from them; a screening was
arranged around my ETA and I went right from LAX to the Paramount lot.
George ‘El Guapo’ Roush and I saw the film and really enjoyed it; at
about the same time select folks in New York and Austin were checking
it out as well. Paramount showed it to more people the next day.

The problem with all of this is that while almost everyone who saw the
film walked out positive, with the exception of Garth Franklin of Dark
Horizons, Paramount continued to hide it from the rest of the critical
community. And so a whole load of bluster began; not only was there the
usual ‘This must suck because they’re not showing it’ talk (check out the AP article on the subject, featuring quotes from yours truly), but there
was also a bunch of sideways glances at the likes of CHUD, Aint It Cool
News, IGN, JoBlo and other sites that had been invited. The thought was
that Paramount had just shown the movie to a bunch of easy marks.

(That’s plain silly, and I think most people who read CHUD know that.
An easy mark is rarely how I’m described on the message boards or in my
copious hate mail; in fact I’m often portrayed as a kind of snob who
can’t be bothered to actually enjoy a summer blockbuster. And I guess
that’s a fair assessment – after all, I come into the summer season
looking for movies, not just unrelated scenes of loud noises and flashy
explosions. My expectations for GI Joe had been exceptionally low, and
I was pretty much hoping that the film would be so bad it was good, a
film that can be mocked mercilessly, like M Night Shymalan’s classic
The Happening. Another person shown the movie was Latino Review’s El
Mayimbe, also not an easy mark. El Mayimbe had grown up a hardcore GI
fan, and like many of his peers wanted a darker, more realistic
film. The cheesiness that Stephen Sommers seemed to be bringing made El
Mayimbe very nervous in the weeks leading up to release. He was potentially a very hard fan to please. We both really
liked the film.)

I’m curious as to how this will impact the eventual reviews. While most
of my colleagues in the criticism business are stand-up people who
wouldn’t allow a thing like this to cloud their judgment, there are
others who will be very put off by the fact that a bunch of web guys
got to see the film and they didn’t. And then there’s a ‘reaction to
the reaction’ factor, something I’ve seen come into play at festivals.
When I sat down for GI Joe I expected absolute garbage, and surely some
of my positive reaction comes from bedrock-low expectations. Now that I
and some of my contemporaries have come out as positive on the film
will others walk in with higher expectations that won’t be met? It
happens every year at Sundance – a movie comes out of nowhere and gets
rapturous reviews. Then, when it hits theaters six months later
reviewers, who heard all the festival buzz, treat it very differently
and perhaps aren’t as warm to it.

What I don’t understand is why Paramount has continued to hide the
movie. It works! There’s no denying that there will be negative
reviews, but I think that the film works on its own merits and in its
own ways enough that the Tomatometer score would be, at the end of the
day, fresh. My best guess is that the studio heads are still smarting
from the coal raking they took on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
They’re also afraid of bad buzz coming from the core fanbase, who they fear will react poorly to changes in the ‘mythology.’ Beyond that I also think it’s possible that some of the folks high up
at Paramount don’t get what sort of movie they have on their hands.
After the success of the po-faced TF2 and The Dark Knight, they might
think that the high energy, silly, upbeat GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is
the exact opposite of what moviegoing audiences want today. I think
that it’s exactly what they’re looking for – good action with solid
characters and a fun energy that sends you from the theater pumped with

All of this adds up to me being in a weird position of feeling kind of
protective of a big dumb spectacle movie. Part of that is because my
reputation is suddenly tied up in it – there have been web reports of
me being flown by Paramount to see the film (untrue) as well as reports
saying that the film was screened early in exchange for predetermined
positive reactions (also untrue) – but part of it is because I feel
like GI Joe is one of the few times when a mindless summer blockbuster
actually works. It won’t make my end of the year list but as disposable
pop art GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a rare delight, a film that
delivers everything you could want from a cartoony action spectacle
while rewarding you – through laughs and fun – for keeping your brain
turned on. It’s a bubblegum blast of bombastic booms and blams, a movie
that doesn’t wink at you but also doesn’t take itself very seriously.
It’s everything that you think a blockbuster should be but rarely ever

This weekend I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is – I’ve been
itching to see GI Joe again and since Paramount won’t screen it, I’ll be buying my ticket for a public showing.

You can read my review of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra here.