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Alpha Dog" movie faces off screen drama over real life tale of murder

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ On the big screen, the new movie "Alpha Dog" focuses on the kidnapping and murder of a Southern California teenager, a plot inspired by actual events. Off screen, the movie which premiered Wednesday in Los Angeles and stars Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone and Justin Timberlake, is creating drama of its own.

Not only is the film facing a legal challenge that could block its release in a week’s time, but an appeals court has criticized a deputy district attorney for turning over confidential files to the movie’s producers.

Attorneys for Jesse James Hollywood are trying to block the distribution of "Alpha Dog" because Hollywood is awaiting trial for the events depicted in the movie.

Despite changing the characters’ names, Hollywood is shown in a bad light throughout the movie, said attorney James Blatt, and jurors could be tainted, infringing Hollywood’s right to a fair trial.

Universal Studios, which made the movie, argues that prohibiting the public from seeing the film would violate the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.

Last month, a federal judge refused to stop the film’s release but Hollywood appealed the decision. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule in the next few days.

"Alpha Dog" is based on the kidnapping and slaying of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz seven years ago. Prosecutors believe Hollywood, portrayed in the movie by Emile Hirsch, was the mastermind behind the murder plot. The boy’s body was later found in a remote Santa Barbara County camping area.

Markowitz was killed as part of a feud Hollywood had with the victim’s older half brother over a US$1,200 drug debt, prosecutors said. Four others have been convicted in connection with the murder.

Hollywood fled after being charged with murder and was captured in Brazil in 2005. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Also pending is a decision by the California Supreme Court, which could reverse a lower court’s ruling to remove Santa Barbara County Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen from handling Hollywood’s trial.

In October, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered Zonen removed from the case because he shared probation reports, police files and other materials with "Alpha Dog" producers. He also served as an unpaid consultant on the film.

Zonen’s "actions allowed ‘show business’ to cast an unseemly shadow over this case," Presiding Judge Arthur Gilbert wrote in the court’s Oct. 5 decision.

Blatt, who has seen the film, said that Zonen’s involvement in "Alpha Dog" gives the public a slanted view of what happened.

"It looks like a major conflict-of-interest," Blatt said. "They are making a motion picture and at the same time trying to take my client’s life. It’s like being hit with a double-barrel shotgun."