Milchan climbs into ‘Cage’ pic

Reps at Arnon Milchan’s Warner Bros.-based New Regency Prods. confirmed Wednesday that the outfit has optioned novelist and scripter Edward R. Jones’ escape/thriller novel “Cage,” which will likely be set up as a WB feature.

Terms of the deal were not available, though sources pegged the option price at around $ 500,000, with all production bonuses included. Michael Siegel of Michael Siegel & Associates made Jones’ deal.

Ron Howard has expressed interest in directing the picture for WB. The Universal-based Imagine Entertainment co-topper is looking at either Woody Harrelson or Harrison Ford to topline.

“(Howard) thought this was a franchise character role,” the source said. Howard’s reps at Imagine did not return calls and WB had no comment.

Howard, who is said to have at least one exclusion from his deal at Universal/Imagine, met several times with ankling New Regency prexy Steven D. Reuther and Jones earlier this month to work out a deal.

New Regency originally acquired “Cage” last year, then renewed the deal late last month when W. Peter Illif (“Patriot Games,””Point Break”) handedin a draft adaptation. Iliff is also said to have met with Howard about the project.

“Cage” is dubbed a real-life version of WB’s “The Fugitive.” It’s about Allen Cage, a non-violent convict whose Houdini-like escape talent makes the FBI dispatch him from the U.S. to a South American maximum security clink from which there’s no escape — or so they think. Cage then plots to spring himself and a fellow con the U.S. feds desperately want.

Author Jones, at age 17, was sentenced in 1959 to 10 years on a Virginia chain gang for buying a stolen wedding band to give to his high school bride.

But Jones proved an elusive con, escaping more than 14 times in 20 years. After landing on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list as Hacksaw Jones, he later penned his autobiography in a book by that name in 1986.

Jones was released from federal prison in 1990, after a Florida judge deemed the original sentence overly harsh, vacated it and dubbed it “a miscarriage of justice.”

The writer is currently working on a second draft of the tentatively titled thriller “Sexual Healing” for Simpson/Bruckheimer Prods., which is about a high-priced Washington, D.C., call girl.

Jones sold his first spec screenplay, “Soul Survivors,” to WB for a mid-six figure sum in June 1991, before the property went to Paramount. It is now slated for production later this year with Glenn Close and Woody Harrelson starring and Marc Rocco (“Where the Day Takes You”) helming for producer Wendy Finerman.

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