‘Johnny’ pic marches home

Artist-turned-director Robert Longo’s “Johnny Mnemonic” is on a supersonic pace toward a Jan. 31 production start for TriStar Pictures and Vision Intl., including firm deals with Dolph Lundgren and Ice-T to headline, sources said.

“Fortress” star Christopher Lambert has emerged as front runner for the title role, eclipsing a short list of actors that includes Johnny Depp, Ray Liotta, Kiefer Sutherland and Keanu Reeves. Confirmation of a final choice and firm deal for “Mnemonic” is expected by next week.

In addition, negotiations are reportedly ongoing with “The Firm” co-star Jeanne Tripplehorn to play the female lead, while U2 lead singer Bono is in discussions to supervise the soundtrack and play a part in the pic.

“Mnemonic” is one of two movies rapidly moving toward production for distribution by TriStar. Agency sources said TriStar is peppering ten-percenters with inquiries about the availability of comic talent to make appearances in screenwriter/director Nora Ephron’s cameo-laden Steve Martin starrer “The Night Before Xmas.”

Discussions have reportedly been initiated with Rob Reiner and Garry Shandling. Agents said talent deals for the piece could emerge as one of the hotter scrambles over the typically slow final weeks of the year.

“Johnny Mnemonic” shapes up as the first major film adaptation of William Gibson’s cyborg fiction. Gibson also penned the screenplay.

Such top filmmakers as “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” helmer James Cameron have attempted to bring Gibson’s work to screen, and several Gibson properties remain in active development throughout the biz.

“Johnny Mnemonic” is set in the 21st century, in a world without national borders. It’s about a man who is conned into smuggling — within his brain — the formula for a cure to a “future-shock” disease, which occurs when humans are overloaded with information. He is discovered by the Japanese mob, which attempts to intercept him on his delivery route.

A celebrated New York artist of the 1980s, Longo will make his feature film debut with the piece. Previously, he has directed musicvideos for such groups as REM, as well as an experimental short for Elektra Records’ short-lived film division that featured then-unknown Ray Liotta, Eric Bogosian, Sean Young, Richard Price, Steve Buscemi and E. Max Frye.

In an effort to prove his feature potential, Longo also directed an episode of “Tales From the Crypt,” which led to confidence by Vision and TriStar that he could handle the pic.

“Mnemonic” is being packaged by Cinevisions founder Peter Hoffman, who has a long-term pact with the international sales arm Vision Intl. Hoffman was en route to Hollywood from a business trip to Canada, and could not be reached for comment.

Under terms of the agreement, TriStar would handle North American distribution, while Vision would parcel the property out in international territories. The deal is being structured by TriStar as a negative pickup.

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