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Paramount pushes ‘Soloist’ bow

Downey Jr./Foxx drama moved to March 2009

Paramount Pictures is pulling the awards-season plug on “The Soloist.”

Studio is moving the Jamie Foxx-Robert Downey Jr. starrer from Nov. 21 to March 13, dashing any hopes for Academy Awards accolades for ’08.

DreamWorks, which produced the film, had high hopes for “The Soloist” as a contender in multiple Oscar categories, including the acting heats, particularly Downey’s performance.

Directed by “Atonement” helmer Joe Wright, “Soloist” is based on a series of L.A. Times columns by Steve Lopez about a homeless schizophrenic musician’s dreams of playing at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

DreamWorks declined comment, but insiders said brass are very disappointed by the move while conceding that it might benefit the film’s box office prospects due to the competitive field of year-end films.

U.K.’s Working Title, also a producer on “Soloist,” and helmer Wright were also taken off guard. Paramount risks tainting the movie’s profile with this move, which the industry and media will read as a vote of no-confidence. It had built positive buzz during long-lead screenings.

Steve Zaillian’s “All the King’s Men” bowed to disappointing box office after Columbia Pictures moved it from 2005 to 2006.

TV spots for “The Soloist” have already aired nationally and were committed going forward, though Par said it can pull the spots back or roll them over. “Soloist” trailers had been placed in front of “Eagle Eye.”

“We decided it’s a commercial movie that will play well in the spring, and we’ll give it an aggressive wide release then,” Par vice chairman Rob Moore said.

Studio also moved Ed Zwick’s “Defiance,” a Holocaust drama starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, to a 2009 wide release. The film, which was scheduled to open Dec. 12, will still get an Oscar qualifying run by bowing Dec. 31. But Paramount will release the Vantage title wide on Jan. 16.

Both “The Soloist” and “Defiance” were booked into the AFI Fest next month.

Moves save the studio some $60 million-$70 million in prints and advertising costs before the end of the year. By moving the two wide releases into 2009, Paramount can count all its P&A costs and revenues in the same year, rather than taking a steep year-end hit on marketing costs.

In its old date, “Defiance” would have gone up against the debut of Miramax’s “Doubt” and the Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader,” as well as the expansion of “Milk” and “Frost/Nixon.”

Likewise, “The Soloist” was set to open wide in a very crowded frame. Pics set to unspool then include “Twilight” and “Bolt.”

Paramount is clearly throwing its Oscar campaign money at Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road” starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, and David Fincher’s “The Curious Life of Benjamin Button,” starring Brad Pitt as a man who ages backward. Paramount also is putting its financial muscle, with Downey’s blessing, behind his supporting performance in the Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder.”

Insiders say Paramount should have made decisions on these two films months ago. However, the economic downturn and the recent DreamWorks divorce prompted a delayed course of action.

(Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)