Moviegoers watching the new John Candy comedy "Armed and Dangerous" are also seeing a 90-second trailer for what looks to be a zany romp starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, "Ishtar." The trailer's tag line reads, "Coming soon to a theater near you."
But sooner is much later than you would think and everybody had hoped.
Columbia Pictures has informed film exhibitors that "Ishtar," which was to have opened Nov. 26--as the studio's only (and expected to be big) Christmas release--now will open May 22.
Said a Columbia spokesman of the comedy (estimated budget between $30 million and $40 million) directed by Elaine May, "Both the studio and the film makers didn't want to rush the film. The reason for a delay is it takes awhile to edit the film. We will have a print delivered in February. The decision (to change the release date) wasn't made long ago."
Columbia's sudden decision surprised film exhibitors, who were seeing a slim list of Christmas movies. "Ishtar" had not yet been "bid out" (terms offered to theater owners) but Columbia anticipated that the picture would play on 1,000-plus screens.
Columbia, which has had only one major hit this year ("Karate Kid II") and two recent disappointments ("A Fine Mess" and "Out of Bounds") will join MGM, Cannon Films and Universal Pictures as studios without major Christmas fare. Universal originally had a wide holiday run planned for the film version of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," but now it's scheduled to open only in New York and Los Angeles.
Larry Gleason, president of marketing and distribution for De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, said "Ishtar's" absence will help his company. "We've already got calls from exhibitors asking us if they can book either 'King Kong Lives!' which we had booked in over 1,000 theaters, or 'Crimes of the Heart,' which we're considering expanding from our initial limited-release pattern."
Gleason, who formerly was an executive with the Ted Mann chain, noted, "It would drive me crazy when studios would pull a film this late. Everybody in the industry knew 'Ishtar' was going to be having troubles meeting its release date. As a result this Christmas will be far less competitive than last year."
On Friday morning, exhibitors were calling studio distribution bosses to shuffle plans. "There's a lot of pressure being put on Warner Bros. to go wider on 'Mosquito Coast' and 'The Little Shop of Horrors,' " said one film buyer. "They also don't understand why Universal can't go wide with 'Brighton Beach' since the movie's ready. The exhibitors feel they shouldn't suffer because the studios didn't stay on top of their films closer."
He went on: "Usually there are 16 to 18 major Christmas releases. This year there's 12. I wouldn't be surprised if Warners and Cannon decide to rush 'Over the Top' (starring Sylvester Stallone) into release in that month because of the pressure that exhibitors are putting on them now." Last month 20th Century Fox moved "Project X" from its Christmas schedule to next February. "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (Cannon) and "84 Charing Cross Road" (Columbia) also have been postponed indefinitely from their initial Christmas release. Once planned for Christmas release and later moved to an October release, "The Color of Money," starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise, might have picked up the "Ishtar" theater fallout, but it's now locked into the fall schedule.
Eddie Murphy's "Golden Child," Jane Fonda's "The Morning After," Clint Eastwood's "Heartbreak Ridge," the Chevy Chase-Steve Martin comedy "Three Amigos," Disney's reissue of "Lady and the Tramp" and Paramount's "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" probably won't get many added theaters since they have a wide release pattern already.
"It's going to be a wonderful Christmas, I still believe," sighed a Columbia spokesman, " . . . for those companies still in it."