Mel Gibson is reportedly in talks with his legal team after discovering THE NEW YORK POST newspaper screened a bootleg copy of his controversial movie THE PASSION OF CHRIST to a panel of religious leaders.

THE SINGING DETECTIVE star, 47, will not release the epic film - which portrays the last days of JESUS CHRIST - until February (04), and is horrified the paper turned reactions to the screening into a news story.

According to reports the panel included a rabbi, a priest, a professor of religion, the New York Post's film critic and a randomly selected reader. After watching the movie - which stars James Caviezel and MONICA BELLUCCI - the group gave their mostly negative opinions to the paper, which turned the results into a news item.

The move has provoked fury in Hollywood, with studio heads describing it as "horrible", "bad ethics" and "a complete lack of compassion for artists... a violation almost beyond words".

However, the Post remains unrepentant, saying, "With so much controversy and attention surrounding this film, we feel this is a legitimate news story."

Gibson may launch a legal challenge against the paper in the next few days.

25/11/2003 09:13