11:03am PT by Matt Belloni
Read the threatening letter Joe Francis' lawyer sent over '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 tells us.
Francis' lawyer Larry Stein sent the above letter to distributor TWC after O'Connell told the 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 splatterfest, but the male lead, whom the O'Connell character films slurping tequila of 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 tells us. "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 TWC spokesperson said "we don’t comment on any pending legal matters” and referred our call to litigator Bert Fields, who is out of the country.
So-called "libel-in-fiction" claims have become more common lately. The theory goes that the average person would be led to believe the character is based on a real person (like Francis) and the depiction puts him in a false light and/or defames him.
Francis says he hasn't seen the film but his lawyers are monitoring the situation and will not hesitate to sue.
"The actors, producers, distributors and others associated with this film are on notice that my legal team will be evaluating their film and monitoring their promotional activities," he tells us. "Clearly, this film was intended to be more than a mere parody, and I intend to seek damages if and when the film is distributed."
We caught up with O'Connell at the "Piranha 3D" premiere last night and asked him about the Francis fracas.
"The character is based on a number of people in the soft core porn industry,” O'Connell said with a smile. "Any similarities are purely coincidental.”
Francis isn't buying the excuse. Will Joe check out the movie and see for himself?
"Probably not," Francis says, "because I have heard from several people who have seen the movie that it’s so bad, it’s unwatchable. But I’m sure that my lawyer Larry Stein will be front and center opening day!"