Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Roadside Attractions and Liddell Entertainment have acquired U.S. and Canadian rights to I Love You Phillip Morris. Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the fact based film stars Jim Carrey as a married conman who falls in love with his cellmate—Ewan McGregor—and commits all kinds of crazy misdeeds like breaking out of Texas prisons four times, to be with his lover. Roadside Attractions has set a December 3 release date.

The deal closely follows an announcement by Roadside Attractions and Liddell that they completed an acquisition of the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu-directed Biutiful, which confirmed a story Deadline broke on August 10. Biutiful will also be released in December.

The deal ends a prolonged odyssey for I Love You Phillip Morris to find its way to movie screens here. Financed by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, the film premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and opened on schedule internationally, grossing around $17 million. Besson’s hopes to see the film get a simultaneous domestic release turned into a nightmare. The film’s original distributor, Consolidated Pictures Group, missed the original February 12 release date, and two other slots–March 26 and April 30–were also scratched.

While the upstart company made a Canadian distribution deal with Alliance and floated in the press a plan to platform the film July 30 and release it wide on August 6, Besson and producers Andrew Lazar and Far Shariat had seen enough. There was concern that the repeated delays would reflect badly on a film that has been well received abroad, particularly for Jim Carrey’s performance as the love-struck conman. Since CPG had failed to pay a $3 million minimum guarantee and there were questions it would be able to raise the $8 million P&A commitment that was crucial to a EuropaCorp-brokered DVD deal with Fox, Besson pulled back the picture on the grounds of breach of contract, which Deadline revealed April 13.  EuropaCorp had discussions about placing the film with Newmarket, but that deal was never made.

Usually, disputes between distributors and film rights holders are handled in arbitration, but because CPG was new and unproven, the film’s reps at CAA and WME made a deal that gave EuropaCorp the latitude to pull its picture if deadlines weren’t met. Besson subsequently filed suit against CPG.

All that drama is in the rear view mirror with a new deal that gives the film a release date and a P&A commitment. Roadside Attractions now has three Oscar season films generating buzz for strong performances. Aside from Carrey, there is a Javier Bardem turn in Biutiful that won Best Actor at Cannes, and a performance by Jennifer Lawrence in the Sundance prize-winning film Winter’s Bone. Liddell and Roadside Attractions confirmed the acquisition and will announce it today.

“Audiences who know this is from the creators of Bad Santa will be thrilled that it’s as outrageous as they’d expect,” Liddell said in a statement. “It’s a true-life, daring, crazy love story with fascinating lead performances by Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.”

Said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen: “This is a film that everyone has been talking about and we’re thrilled it became available again, as we had been in hot pursuit of it at Sundance and were disappointed it was one that got away.”

I Love You Phillip Morris was one of a trio of indie films that had distribution deals fall apart. Josh Radnor’s Happythankyoumoreplease was pulled back from distributor Hannover House and will be released by Anchor Bay Films. The George Hickenlooper-directed Casino Jack was pulled back from upstart distribution company Metropolitan. That film, which stars Kevin Spacey as the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, will be screened next month at the Toronto Film Festival, but it hasn’t yet made a new distribution deal.