FOREIGN EXCHANGE: No actor better typifies the discrepancy of domestic/international box office clout than Christopher Lambert. His recent films “Highlander 2,””Knight Moves” and “Fortress” collectively earned $ 150 million overseas. In the U.S. they grossed less than $ 30 million together.
So, while the Swiss-born star of “Greystoke” can command $ 2 million-$ 3 million fees for sequels to past hits abroad, he’d really like to work for a Hollywood studio. He finally gets his first shot with Universal’s “Kirina” (aka “Corina” or “Karina”) in April. John Lawton, who wrote “Pretty Woman,” also directs the tale of an American in Japan pursued by assassins. Lambert will work for scale plus 10%. But don’t fret, he’ll next segue into the “Fortress” sequel for a fee befitting a superstar.
IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE: Miramax is gearing up for an April start on its “Restoration” comedy to star Robert Downey Jr. The 17th-century yarn, written by Rupert Walters, casts Downey as a surgeon who falls in with royalty but eventually sees the light and turns to curing plague victims.
Despite its serious underpinnings, the tone is more romantic and jocular, with Downey in pursuit of the king’s consort. Meg Ryan’s been mentioned for the latter role, but she gets a lot of offers.
Michael Hoffman will direct for producers Cary Brokaw and Sarah Black.
FUNNY, I THOUGHT IT WAS IN Esperanto: When Carolco went after major distribution on its $ 55 million sci-fi opus “Stargate,” buyers were treated to 20 minutes of spectacular effects, stunning visuals and pulsating music.
“It was like an extended ‘Cliffhanger’ trailer,” said a studio rep who passed. MGM made the deal and plans an August release.
What most didn’t guess was that “Stargate” could be considered a foreign-language film. Apart from Kurt Russell — and members of an American exploration crew — we’re told everyone else in the cast, including Jaye Davidson, requires extensive subtitling. They’re members of an ancient society that might have built the pyramids. Still, the unorthodox sales ploy had people walking away thinking something seriously sphinxed.
SOME THINGS TAKE A LONG, LONG TIME to see the light of day. Back in 1941, a young writer named Ted Allan sold his treatment about Canadian doctor Norman Bethune to Fox chief Darryl Zanuck. Allan served under the maverick physician during the Spanish Civil War. The good doctor was a hard-living type who revolutionized battlefield surgery and left Spain to fight with Mao in China where he died of a freak infection and became a national hero.
Allan would not write a screenplay for four decades, but in the intervening years Columbia and Warner Bros. optioned the idea and such filmmakers as Otto Preminger, Giuliano Montaldo, Norman Jewison and Ted Kotcheff planned to film it. The Chinese made their own version in 1963.
It finally came together in 1988 as a Canadian/French/Chinese co-production starring Donald Sutherland and directed by Phil Borsos. The filming was a cause celebre in Canada, the budget ballooned to $ 20 million and dark tales echoed back from Asia. When it debuted in Cannes in 1990, scribes mostly wrote about the tensions between star, director and writer. The film itself got poor placement.
“Dr. Bethune” opens Wednesday in L.A. and Allan says he’s relieved. It’s been a long march, though he admits he wasn’t ready to tell the story in 1941. The veteran writer of such books and films as “Lies My Father Told Me” and “Love Streams” just finished a script on the Spanish Civil War for director Arthur Hiller and confides that idea predates Bethune. Luckily, there were other stories in between that had less arduous histories.
SI, SI, CINEMA: The American Cinematheque kicks off a weekend of contemporary Spanish cinema Friday that should not be missed. “Dream of Light,” the opener, was a deserved hit at Cannes in 1992 and ranks as one of the great films about the artistic process. It’s followed by “Golden Balls,” the latest from the quirky, sexy oeuvre of Bigas Luna.
The program, which also includes a new “Don Quixote” with Fernando Rey and Imanol Uribe’s “Dumbfounded King,” is a terrific primer of what’s going on in the land of Almodovar.