Paramount’s decision to move ‘G.I Joe Retaliation’ could be a no-win for the studio

Walk down the aisle of a grocery store, and you’ll see products with the “G.I. Joe Retaliation” logo slapped on them.  Hit the right toy store that didn’t get the memo, and you’ll see “G.I. Joe Retaliation” toys on the shelves.  Drive around LA, and you’ll see plenty of outdoor posters for the film.  It looks like Paramount’s got their sequel to the live-action “Rise Of Cobra” ready to go and on its way to theaters on June 29th.

That’s not true, though.  They’ve pushed the film to a March 29th, 2013 release, and the reason they gave last week when details started to break was that they wanted to make sure they had time to give the film a good 3D post-conversion.

This week, though, that cover story is starting to collapse, and a very different picture is emerging of a film in trouble, a director being pushed aside, and reshoots designed to radically alter the fate of at least one character.  In an age where even the smallest details on a film seem to be known months ahead of release, I’m not sure how Paramount thought they were going to get away with a cover story as simple as “We like 3D,” but it’s apparent that they’re going to have to contend with months of tough buzz instead, and their decision to move the film could be make or break and worth hundreds of millions of dollars to a studio that can’t afford to throw away any money right now.

At the start of this year, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that killing off Channing Tatum early in the film would be an issue for the studio.  That was before “The Vow” and “21 Jump Street” and “Haywire” revealed a new onscreen comfort and audiences responded enthusiastically.  It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the studio would want to take advantage of this new-found love of Tatum, and nine months is plenty of time to script and reshoot some new sequences that put Tatum and Dwayne Johnson together.

We’ve been hearing reports of rough test screenings for the film, but things are starting to get genuinely contentious between director Jon Chu and the studio, and right now, there is a chance he won’t be directly involved at all with the reshoots.  There’s also a chance Chu might try to legally force his way back onto the film, which could create even more strain in the relationship he has with Paramount.  Word is that producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura is firmly on Chu’s side, which could help, but I shouldn’t be shocked if we get word soon that Stuart Baird or someone similar is being brought on to “consult.”

No matter what, this creates real difficulties between Paramount and promotional partners, between studio and filmmaker, and between the movie and the audience.  After all, this is going to be the story now for the next nine months.  We’ll hear about every single speed bump they encounter as they try to salvage this property.  From now until the film opens, it’s gone from being a somewhat under-the-radar attempt to reboot a series to now being a troubled production.  It can be deadly when that’s what an audience gets in their head, even if the end result works.   Paramount’s decision to fix the film could be the thing that destroys it in the end, and there’s a good chance they’ll spend much of the next year throwing good money after bad.

We’ll see when “G.I. Joe Retaliation” opens on March 29, 2013.