Cassavetes pic finds new distrib

“Alpha Dog,” the Nick Cassavetes-directed pic about drug dealer, kidnapper and murderer Jesse James Hollywood, will be distributed by Universal, not New Line.

Universal plans to open the pic on more than 1,000 screens in the first quarter of 2007. The studio may also release it this December for an Oscar-qualifying run.

Pic is based on the story of Jesse James Hollywood, who is accused of masterminding the kidnap and murder of 15-year-old Nick Markowitz in 2000 from near his home the San Fernando Valley.

Hollywood, now 26, allegedly partied with the youth — the half-brother of a teen who owed him money — for two days before killing him and leaving him in a shallow grave.

Disappearing for five years, he became one of the youngest members of the FBI’s most wanted list, and was apprehended in March 2005 in Brazil while Cassavetes was making the film.

The pic will hit theaters around the same time that Hollywood is likely to be on trial.

Universal came in as distributor of the pic following a disagreement over release strategy between New Line and Cassavetes and producer/financier Sidney Kimmel. New Line is said to have favored a “Crash”-like platform release.

Cassavetes, who directed “The Notebook” and “John Q” for that studio, felt “Alpha Dog” deserved a comparable wide release.

Universal agreed with Cassavetes and Kimmel, and pledged to distribute the film on more than 1,000 screens.

“Alpha Dog” bowed at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where its controversial subject matter proved a hot ticket.

Four other defendants have been tried and convicted in the case.

While the defendant’s attorneys have charged that the film could interfere with Hollywood’s right to a fair trial, Cassavetes created some fictional distance by changing names of key characters, a move made once Hollywood was caught at a shopping mall near Rio De Janeiro. Emile Hirsch, who plays the lead character, goes by the name Johnny Truelove in the film.

Also starring in the film are Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone and Justin Timberlake.

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