Joe Carnahan is a director whose work has improved at such a rapid pace, pretty much everyone was caught by surprise when his 2012 survival thriller The Grey ended up being as good as it was. Even fans who were enthusiastic about his previous work like Smokin’ Aces and A-Team weren’t ready for what a deep and affecting meditation on mortality and the mercilessness of nature that movie ended up being.
And the studio suits certainly didn’t know what they had on their hands with The Grey. Despite the fact that it was good enough to end up on a whole bunch of critics’ end of the year lists for 2012, they released it in January when the crap that they’re not optimistic about generally gets dumped, and they mis-marketed it as some sort of exploitation film where Liam Neeson boxes a pack of wolves. Just imagine the awards potential it could have had if it was released in the fall and was effectively marketed as the powerful drama it proved itself to be.
What’s the point of bringing all of this up? Well, it looks like Carnahan’s followup to The Grey—a movie called Stretch that’s said to be a darkly comedic thriller—is also experiencing some problems thanks to the studio people who are supposed to be supporting it. So many problems that, at the moment, there isn’t even a solid plan to put it out anymore.
The story here comes from THR, who report that even though Carnahan’s new project was shot with an impressively thrifty budget of under $5 million, Universal has decided that they don’t feel comfortable spending the at least $20 million that they’ve decided would be necessary to market it, so they’ve taken it off of their release schedule just two months before it was scheduled to hit theaters.
The next part of this story is that the film’s producer, Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal Activity, Insidious), shopped the film around to potential new distributors, but couldn’t get anyone else to bite, so now the rights have reverted back to Universal who still don’t intend to put it out in theaters in any traditional way. It’s possible that this part of the story can be taken with a grain of salt though, because Carnahan took to his Twitter account yesterday to assure fans that this wasn’t the last they were going to hear of Stretch, and his first tweet on the subject seemed to take issues with some of the details in THR’s story.
If Carnahan’s twitterings can be taken as more than just damage control, then it’s pretty impressive for him to go on record as saying that Stretch is as good or better than The Grey. If that’s truly the case, then the film is definitely something that the public is going to want to get their hands on. If the story about other distributors passing on the film is true though, then what is Carnahan and Blum’s Plan C when it comes to getting this one out to consumers? Trying to get it into one of the big festivals so that it can create audience buzz and earn another look from the Universal brass or someone who might decide to take it off their hands? Convincing someone at Universal to unceremoniously dump it on VOD without spending any real money to market it, and then try to promote it through word of mouth?
Given how enticing this project appears to be on paper, and the fact that it only cost a reported $5 million to make, you would think that either one of those options would be successful—even in an insane world where this one isn’t being allowed to get even a limited theatrical run. Stretch stars The Conjuring and Insidious star Patrick Wilson as a limo driver, Star Trek’s Chris Pine as his eccentric billionaire passenger, who puts him through a series of increasingly dangerous encounters, and it’s also said to feature appearances from names like Jessica Alba, Brooklyn Decker, Ed Helms, and Ray Liotta. Who couldn’t take a list of names like that, slap a “from the director of The Grey” label on a modest ad campaign, and then make some money off of it just by letting nature take its course?
Something seems to be very amiss here. Maybe the new Pine-led Jack Ryan movie opened so soft that the suits are panicking about releasing anymore films where he’s in a lead role? Maybe Carnahan’s famously outspoken nature really pissed off someone who has some major weight in the industry? Whatever it is, Carnahan’s assertions that we will somehow, someway get to see this movie have to be spot on. There’s money to be made here, no matter what the studio system as it currently exists and their outlandish advertising budgets seem to think. What do you say, Universal? How about it, other potential distributors? Who’s going to step up and at least give this one a limited theatrical/simultaneous VOD release like we’ve been seeing a handful of indie movies receiving lately? Your audience demands it.