I was one of the hardy souls who endured the recent Larry The Cable Guy atrocity Witless Protection, and when I wasn't bleeding out the eyes or praying aloud for the sweet release of death, I was noticing something peculiar: The film has an FBI character named Alonzo Mosely, which was also the name of an FBI character in Midnight Run. In and of itself, that could be a coincidence. But take into account that both Alonzo Moselys are played by the same actor, Yaphet Kotto, and that both are responsible for tracking down on-the-run witnesses who are supposed to testify against the Mafia, and you realize this was done on purpose.

So that's cute, I thought. I figured they probably hired Kotto, realized how similar the character was to the one he played in Midnight Run, and renamed the new character as a little inside joke. Universal Pictures isn't laughing, though, and not just because they watched a Larry The Cable Guy movie. According to The Hollywood Reporter's law blog (not written by Bob Loblaw, unfortunately), they're suing Lionsgate for copyright infringement and seek to stop all further distribution of Witless Protection, including the DVD release scheduled for June 10.

That's right: If Universal wins the case, the movie will be taken out of circulation. Regardless of the legal ramifications, I see this as a victory for society.

You can read Universal's surprisingly entertaining official complaint in a PDF file here. It makes reference to the fact that Witless Protection was a critical and financial failure, and it calls the film "inane," among other insults. There are probably legal reasons for attacking the film -- it bolsters the argument that using Alonzo Mosely reduces the value of the character -- but I like to think that Universal just wanted an official forum in which to rip on Lionsgate's crappy redneck movie.

It is copyright infringement to include a character from another movie in your movie, of course, unless it's in the context of a parody. Lionsgate's only hope is to claim that Witless Protection was a parody of Midnight Run. But that's gonna be tough, since Witless writer/director Charles Robert Carner has said in at least one interview that Midnight Run was "one of the inspirations" for his film, and that Kotto was hired specifically to reprise the Mosely role -- and he never says anything about it being a "parody" or a "spoof" or anything like that. He seems to think it was OK to just reuse a character from another movie and that nobody would have a problem with that.

So good luck, Lionsgate! I hope you have some lawyers who know how to Get 'R Done! (This is the part where Larry The Cable Guy's fans laugh really hard because I said the thing that he always says.)
CATEGORIES Cinematical