September 25, 2003 03:01 PM

The Sean Connery summer flick “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” fared poorly with the critics and only did so-so at the box office, but that hasn’t stopped a legal battle from emerging over the movie.

Veteran producer Martin Poll (“The Lion in Winter,” with Katharine Hepburn) and screenwriter Larry Cohen (“Phone Booth,” with Colin Farrell) filed a $100-million lawsuit against studio 20th Century Fox on Thursday in Los Angeles U.S. District Court.

The pair claims the studio “flagrantly and unlawfully stole” their idea for a feature film to have been titled “Cast of Characters,” which the studio then purportedly made as “League.”

The finished Fox film was about six 19th-century literary heroes — including Allan Quartermain of “King Solomon’s Mines” (Connery) — brought together in 1899 in England to stop a power-hungry madman from starting a world war. The suit claims Cohen wrote the screenplay years before the creation of “League” graphic novels by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill.

Among the similarities between the two films, the suit claims, is that both Victorian dramas recount a fictional struggle involving Quatermain and Sherlock Holmes as they battle James Moriarty and Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. Poll alleges his feature had some of the same additional literary characters: Jekyll & Hyde, Tom Sawyer and the Phantom.

As early as 1993, Poll claims he was in talks with high-level Fox executives about “Cast of Characters.” These allegedly included multiple conversations with Fox president Tom Rothman over the prospective production’s financing and distribution. Poll, the papers also say, enlisted John Landis (“Animal House,” “An American Werewolf in London”) to direct.

Lawyers for the studio have not commented on the suit.

In her review of “League,” PEOPLE movie critic Leah Rozen wrote, “The idea, based on a graphic novel, is a smart one, but the execution is an unwieldy mixing of the past with modern-day action movie cliches. Think ‘Wild Wild West.'”

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