CHICAGO (CN) – After “The Merry Gentleman” bombed commercially, director Michael Keaton is not responsible to the film’s producers, the Seventh Circuit ruled.
Best known as the lead of Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies – a role at which the Academy Award-winning film “Birdman” winked last year – Keaton was hired to star as Frank in “The Merry Gentleman.”
The 2008 film, co-starring Kelly Macdonald of “Boardwalk Empire” fame, tells the story of a woman who forms an unlikely relationship with a hired killer.
When the film’s first director, Ron Lazzeretti, had to leave for health reasons, Keaton asked to direct the firm.
The movie won some critical acclaim upon its premiere at Sundance film festival and release, including a 3.5-star rating out of 4 from Roger Ebert, but it was a commercial flop.
In court, the holding company created to produce the film, Merry Gentlemen LLC, sought to recoup the entirety of what it spent making the film – $5.5 million – from Keaton, blaming the film’s commercial failure on Keaton’s alleged failure to promote the film, and various delays he caused in editing.
A federal judge threw out the suit, however, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed Wednesday.
“Who can say why a critically praised movie did not make money?” Judge David Hamilton said, writing for the three-judge panel.
“Merry Gentleman complains that Keaton slowed down the production process and failed to publicize the movie adequately after it was finished,” Hamilton said. “No doubt, these services have economic value and, on a proper showing, Merry Gentleman might have been entitled to recover damages for these shortcomings. But no reasonable trier of fact could find that Merry Gentleman lost its entire investment of $5.5 million because Keaton failed to submit his first cut on time or failed to publicize the movie better.”
Merry Gentlemen claimed Keaton should be responsible for the entire cost of making the film, because it never would have spent the money “to finance Keaton’s temper tantrum,” as it says in its motion for summary judgment.
The court described this damages theory as “completely insensitive to the importance and severity of Keaton’s alleged breaches [of contract].”
“We agree with the District Court that Merry Gentleman, in seeking $5.5 million in reliance damages, ‘effectively wants to shift the entire cost – and risk – of producing “The Merry Gentleman” to Keaton for his alleged breaches, giving it a windfall and placing it in a better position than it would have been in had the contract never been signed,'” Hamilton said.
Noting that “reliance damages are not insurance,” the court declined to put Merry Gentlemen in a better position that it had been if it had never signed the contract with Keaton.
“Perhaps Merry Gentleman might have been able to present a genuine issue for trial on a more modest damages theory, but it decided to shoot for the moon and missed,” the panel concluded.
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