For those who have come to dread Madonna movies, please note: Vincent D'Onofrio tried to help you out.
D'Onofrio--a self-described singer, songwriter, actor, director, writer and producer who claims to have worked in the entertainment industry since 1965 (and no relation to the like-named Law & Order: Criminal Intent star, whose publicist quickly put out a statement declaring as much)--went to court Tuesday to block Friday's release of Swept Away, a romantic comedy starring the M One and written and directed by Mr. M One, Guy Ritchie.
To be fair, D'Onofrio wasn't playing film critic, intent on protecting the public from the purveyor of Shanghai Surprise. He was playing the part of a would-be producer scorned.
In a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed Tuesday against Madonna and Ritchie, D'Onofrio claims the celeb couple ripped off his idea for their new flick, a remake of Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmuller's 1974 film of the same name.
Sony Pictures, the studio behind the all-new Swept Away, and SKA Films, Ritchie's production company, are also targeted as defendants.
As part of his court action, D'Onofrio asked a judge to hold up Friday's scheduled release. Although a Los Angeles judge rejected that request, D'Onofrio will proceed with plans to win a belated producer's credit on the film.
"He likes Madonna, he loves this movie [the original Swept Away]...and he was [excited] about this production," says D'Onofrio's attorney Morris Getzels.
D'Onofrio is seeking unspecified damages. Getzels estimates his client would have netted at least $450,000 if he'd received any type of producer's fee.
No comment yet on the lawsuit from Madonna or Sony.
Per court documents, D'Onofrio (unlike the other, more famous Vincent D'Onofrio) is the winner of two sports Emmys. He is also the writer, producer, director of the TV special There's No Place Like Om.
As for his primetime-familiar moniker, his attorney says: "My guy had the name first."
According to his complaint, D'Onofrio settled on Madonna as the perfect star for a Swept Away remake in "late 1996 or early 1997." But before approaching the M One's camp, he first went about lining up a director--Lina Wertmuller.
In 1997, D'Onofrio claims, Wertmuller "enthusiastically agreed" to direct a new version of her film about a wealthy woman who gets it on with a Communist sailor while stranded at sea. The filmmaker later sent Madonna a letter endorsing D'Onofrio as producer on the project, the complaint says.
But D'Onofrio never did get the gig (or talk to Madonna, for that matter). In late 2000, he claims, he sent the entertainer's camp a letter explaining how they could secure the remake rights from David Wolper, the legendary TV producer who owned Swept Away, but, according to Getzels, wasn't keen on seeing Madonna redo it.
The next thing D'Onofrio knows, according his attorney, it's 2001, and Madonna is talking about how she's going to remake Swept Away, sans D'Onofrio and Wertmuller, and with her hubby.
"Guy Ritchie is going around telling people it was his idea," Getzels says.
In a 2001 interview with E! News Live, Madonna said "an actor" pal suggested Swept Away as a possible project for she and Ritchie, who, at the time, had just collaborated on a short film for BMW.
"We were all sitting around watching all the commercials and ours came up, and a friend of ours--he's an actor--he was watching and he turned to both of us afterwards and said: 'I've got a great idea, you guys should make a remake of Swept Away,'" Madonna told E! "For a minute I stopped and went, 'Swept Away? That old Italian film? Hmm, yeah, yeah, interesting.'"
Ritchie told E! the notion for the remake was more directly related to their BMW project, Star.
"Someone saw that and said this reminds me of the Wertmuller film," Ritchie said to E! News Live "And then the Wertmuller film came 'round--we thought, 'oh well...'"
Swept Away is the first feature-length team-up for Madonna and Ritchie, marrieds since December 2000.
Her Golden Globe win for Evita notwithstanding, Ritchie is the acclaimed cinema artist in the family. As a solo act, he has written and directed the Brit crime capers Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Madonna has launched the bombs The Next Best Thing, Body of Evidence and the aforementioned Shanghai Surprise.
Asked if his client intended to be Swept Away in theaters by the M One's latest film, Getzels said, "I don't know. I don't think so."
(Updated at 4:45 p.m. PT.)