Bedeviled pic finds distributor

Release in sight for 'Webster'

“The Devil and Daniel Webster” is getting out of post-production hell.

Bob Yari’s distribution arm, Yari Film Group Releasing, has bought the embattled film and is planning to distribute it to theaters in the spring.

Exec will build a campaign that he hopes will convey to auds what has gotten lost in the press about pic’s backstory: It’s a “lighthearted comedy” but nonetheless “a message movie about how there are few shortcuts in life.”

Yari will change the title from its devilish original to the more upbeat “Shortcut to Happiness.”

Movie is a remake of the 1941 Walter Huston film about a down-on-his-luck writer who sells his soul to the devil for a chance at greatness.

Its epic backstory seems to confirm its point: There were certainly no shortcuts in pic’s route to the screen.

Lensing on the film wrapped way back in the spring of 2001, but the movie promptly went into a post-production period from which it never emerged.

Alec Baldwin, who stars and also directed, at one point sued producer Cutting Edge Entertainment for what he alleged were unpaid fees. He also threatened to stop work on the film. The two parties settled, but Baldwin eventually pulled his name off the project.

Meanwhile, the film languished in post without finishing funds, as various banks and insurance companies haggled over rights. It also had trouble finding distribution.

Making matters more complicated: producer David Glasser’s Cutting Edge Entertainment was reborn as Splendid Pictures under German film company Splendid Medien. Splendid Medien later ended its relationship with Glasser, who was subsequently hired by Yari.

As this was happening, several versions of “Webster” were cut. Still the film failed to find a distributor.

Yari, however, recently bought the pic from the insurance company that had taken over the rights and provided finishing funds. He is credited as an exec producer.

Yari won’t recut the film, but says he will release a different version than the one he believed caused Baldwin to walk away.

While Baldwin has disavowed any connection to the picture — indeed, Alan Smithee is currently listed as director — Yari said he would extend an olive branch to the helmer-thesp by showing him the latest cut. “We’d love for him to be involved in supporting this film,” Yari said.

Baldwin is hot these days, with acclaimed turns in “The Departed” and NBC comedy “30 Rock.

Yari acknowledged the movie could be a tough sell. “It’s very hard to judge how it will perform, because who knows how the history is going to affect the current perception. The public is very savvy.”

But he also said he felt the performances and a platform release –similar to his successful rollout for “The Illusionist” — could help jump-start word of mouth. “This film has a pedigree of stars,” he said, “and I think many people will be surprised by it.”

Pic also stars Anthony Hopkins, Kim Cattrall and Dan Aykroyd, with Jennifer Love Hewitt cast as the devil.

On Tuesday, Starz revealed the movie as part of a larger buy from Yari, which also will see “The Illusionist” air on the paybox.

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