Reese Witherspoon Film Dropout Sparks Lawsuit Against Financiers

FILM: Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon (CAA, Management 360, Hansen Jacobson) is attached to star in and produce "The Beard," a romantic-comedy written by Becca Greene (MTV's "Good Vibes"). Mason Novick, Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping also are producing.

Reese Witherspoon has backed out of a film, and a vitamin maker wants its money back for a product placement.

Natrol Inc. filed the lawsuit yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court against Envision, its chief Remington Chase and their product placement firm, Brand-in Entertainment.

According to the lawsuit and an attached agreement (see here), Natrol put up $180,000 in 2011 so that Witherspoon's character would show off the plaintiff's product in the movie as her favorite brand of vitamins, the only brand she trusted, a product found at almost any major retailer, and a product that helped her sleep and reduced stress and protected her immune system.

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The lawsuit doesn't identity the title of this film, but some of the names of characters detailed in the product integration agreement match up with Rule #1,  about a woman with OCD, to which Witherspoon was once attached as a producer and star. Rule #1 also had backing from Emmett/Furla Films, which partnered with Envision in the raising of $525 million in film financing.

Earlier this year, Chase and his partner Stepan Martirosyan were tied to cocaine trafficking convictions, prison time and stints as federal informants in a Jan. 2 LA Weekly report. In the aftermath of the article, producers Randall Emmett and George Furla distanced themselves from the pair that had helped finance Lone Survivor and other projects.

No reason is given in the latest Natrol lawsuit about why Witherspoon (not a defendant) dropped out of the project, but the plaintiff says it learned of her departure last June. Natrol says the contract entitled them to a refund of money as a result, and after allegedly being given partial repayments, the vitamin company claims it is still due at least $100,000.

This is the second time this year that Envision and Brand-in Entertainment have been sued over a product placement gone awry. In January, French cognac maker Remy Cointreau sued with claims that the $50,000 it paid to be featured in 2 Guns (another Emmett/Furla film) hadn't produced what they had expected. In February, after the defendant failed to respond, a default was entered in L.A. Superior Court.

Envision couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Brand-in Entertainment CEO Rolfe Auerbach, also named as a defendant, said, "No comment. We'll be dealing with that in court."

Twitter: @eriqgardner