As the behemoth production “Last Action Hero” barrels toward its June 18 release, Columbia Pictures chairman Mark Canton abruptly placed in turnaround late Tuesday a project that seemed a sure bet — the $ 16.5 million Roseanne and Tom Arnold starrer “Car Picture.”

Described as “Thelma and Lou,” the pic was sent out for consideration late Tuesday to Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Studios.

Columbia’s decision to jettison its production plans leaves little time for an interloper. To be directed by Michael Lessac, the pic must start shooting by June 15 in order to wrap production before the Arnolds return to their respective television commitments in July.

Up for grabs

William Morris Agency senior veepee and co-head of motion pictures West, Coast, John Burnham confirmed Tuesday that the “Car Picture” is out to the other studios.

He said a deal with a competing studio to finance the movie could come as early as Friday. “I have to know by the end of the week in order to meet their deadlines,” said Burnham, who had no further comment.

Moratorium denied

Canton’s decision may have more to do with “Last Action Hero” than “Car Picture,” according to Colpix sources. They maintain that Columbia’s senior-level management has been bridled from making creative and financial decisions until after the behemoth Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer is released on June 18.

“That is emphatically not true, just look at the schedule of movies in the process of being made,” said Columbia senior veepee of publicity Mark Gill.

In fact, Colpix is currently producing the Michael Keaton starrer “My Life,” director Mike Nichols’ “Wolf,” the $ 35 million western “Geronimo,” as well June 14 starts for “My Girl II,””Karate Kid IV” and summer production plans for “Blankman” and the negative pick-up “Blankout.”

Sources close to the project said Columbia’s production team opted to pass on the “Car Picture” because a recent screenplay was not up to snuff.

Also, Columbia balked at the short pre-production window necessitated by the Arnolds’ television plans.

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