"Girls Gone Wild" chief bites back at "Piranha 3D"
By Matthew Belloni
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - How mad is "Girls Gone Wild" mogul Joe Francis at Jerry O'Connell's coke-snorting, kid-filming character who loses his penis to ravenous fish in this weekend's "Piranha 3D"?
"I believe Mr. O'Connell may lose more than his penis (i.e., lots of money) if he and the Weinstein Co. choose to release this film and continue to falsely associate me with its questionable content," Francis told The Hollywood Reporter.
Francis' lawyer Larry Stein sent a letter to the film's distributor, The Weinstein Co., after O'Connell told the news website Daily Beast of his role: "I get to play Joe Francis! Oh, wait. For legal reasons I'm supposed to say, 'I play someone loosely based on Joe Francis.'"
The letter threatens that "any defamatory or disparaging statements, or depictions, in the media or in the film itself, or other statements that portray Mr. Francis in a false light, will be met with swift litigation."
We've seen the film, in which O'Connell plays "Derrick Jones," the soft-core porn auteur behind a video series called "Wild Wild Girls." (Get it?) We never caught the ages of the various naked women in the 3D horror film, but the male lead, whom the O'Connell character films slurping tequila off a girl's stomach, is said to be 17.
"I appreciate a good parody as much as the next guy, but to associate me with drugs and the filming of underage girls crosses a definite line," Francis said. "Jerry O'Connell has repeatedly and emphatically stated on the public record that he is 'playing Joe Francis,' not a fictional character based on me. Mr. O'Connell has done this despite having been warned by his own lawyers not to admit this."
A Weinstein Co. spokesperson said "we don't comment on any pending legal matters" and referred calls to attorney Bert Fields, who is out of the country.
So-called "libel-in-fiction" claims have become more common lately under the legal theory that the average person would be led to believe a character is based on a real person (like Francis) and the depiction puts him in a false light and/or defames him. Continued...