PAR CARS: Now that Paramount is clicking again with some hit pictures, the studio’s rewarding some of its key players with nice cars. DISH hears that Par was so ecstatic about the gross of “The Firm” that it bought Mercedes convertibles for Tom Cruise, who starred, Sydney Pollack, who directed/produced, and Scott Rudin, also a producer. Rumor has it that John Davis, who also produced, wasn’t on the original car list, but later was added. DISH hears he eventually asked the studio to just donate the money to the Fulfillment Fund, which steers inner-city kids toward college educations.

The episode was reminiscent of “Lethal Weapon 3.” When the film passed the $ 100 million mark, Warner Bros. gave Range Rovers to seven principals, including stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, director Richard Donner and producer Joel Silver.

WOO WOOS RATING BOARD TROUBLE: When John Woo brought his distinctive brand of shoot-‘em-up filmmaking to America, it was inevitable there’d be some adjustment problems to the culture. The biggest problem has been the Classification & Ratings Administration board, which has tentatively bestowed an NC-17 on his new film, “Hard Target,” which stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and will be released by Universal on Aug. 20.

Woo’s previous films, shot in Hong Kong, either were seen here in arthouses unrated or, in the case of his best-known film, “The Killer,” went out with the X rating.

Producer Jim Jacks says the process has been an adjustment for the director. “This poor man has never dealt with (anything like this) before and, with this ratings board problem, he’s a bit bewildered by the whole thing,” Jacks said. “He’s made a set of cuts, but the board felt that wasn’t enough yet, and he’s making another set of cuts right now. I don’t think it’s the amount of blood, but rather the number of deaths.”

Jacks is producing the pic with partner Sean Daniel, with Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert as exec producers, and they’re all contractually obligated to turn in the film with an R. “They are presently giving it the NC-17, and it’s hard for John but we’re doing our best to get the rating. We’re hoping they’ll understand this is John’s style. The body count of the movie is no greater than the ‘Die Hard’ or ‘Lethal Weapon’ pictures, but John has shot it in such a stylized and elegant way that the power of each death is pretty amazing. We’ve cut a lot of blood, but there’s still a lot of death. After all, it’s a big action movie.”

It doesn’t look like the ratings problem has tempered Woo’s enthusiasm to do more movies here. Jacks and Woo are waiting for Quentin Tarantino to write a script in which Chow Yun Fat, chief protagonist in Woo’s Hong Kong films, will make his U.S. acting debut, alongside a big American star.

REWRITE: DISH hears that scripting team Lee and Janet Batchler have been chosen by Warner Bros. for the coveted task of writing the next “Batman” film, which will be directed by Joel Schumacher and exec produced by Tim Burton. The Batchlers, who blazed onto the scene when their spec script “Smoke and Mirrors” was bought by Disney for Frank Marshall to direct, reportedly will be writing a storyline for the Riddler character. That role has long been coveted by Robin Williams, though the pic isn’t near the casting stage yet.

The married Batchlers are currently trying to work Michael Crichton’s “Congo” into a film for Marshall, and also owe a script to Hollywood Pictures, so scheduling’s tight.

DISH’s big question is whether WB will make good on its original plan to use a black actor to play the Caped Crusader’s sidekick, Robin. In “Batman Returns,” there was a plan to give Marlon Wayans the role of the Kid, a mechanic who rescued an injured Batman by driving him to safety in the Batmobile, and who was dubbed Robin at movie’s end. Ultimately, director Tim Burton felt that with Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, there were enough scene-stealing actors.

PROTECTING THE PREXY? The buzz coming out of Allen & Co.’s ultra-secret Idaho retreat was that Clint Eastwood’s day wasn’t made when sneaks of Castle Rock’s “In the Line of Fire” helped pad the past weekend gross of Columbia’s ailing giant “Last Action Hero.”

Estimates ran that the sneaks provided more than $ 1 million in revenue, leading wags to say that was Clint’s donation to the “Action Hero” deficit fund. A Columbia spokesman disputed the theory.

Though past successful sneaks such as “Sleepless in Seattle” or “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” do get credited to the film normally playing in that specific theater, the Eastwood pic didn’t just bump “Action Hero,” but numerous other films on 573 screens around the country. “You sneak a film like this for a specific reason: It’s a very competitive market and the best marketing tool is the film itself, which is a real crowd pleaser,” said the spokesman.

Leonard Hirshan, Eastwood’s agent at William Morris, said the actor had no beef with the gross whatsoever. “On a Friday night, after Mark Canton, who snuck ‘A League of Their Own’ so successfully, realized that after seeing the numbers on the ‘Sleepless’ sneak worked so well, why not do it for ‘In the Line of Fire?’ Clint was absolutely cooperative and had no objection. His feeling was maybe it could do a little good, and it did.”

Hirshan said the grosses were nowhere near as high as $ 1 million, and he attributed the talk to residual knocks on “Action Hero.”

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