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Cohen sets sights on Fox 2000’s ‘Fortune’s’

HOT OFF THE HBO FILM “The Rat Pack,” which begins airing Saturday, director Rob Cohen is looking to make his next film “Fortune’s Fools,” a Fox 2000 drama scripted by Eric Berkquist. Cohen said that although he’s been developing the big-budget sci-fi film “After the Visitation” for the past half-year at TriStar, he might well direct “Fools” first after signing a deal this month.

“It’s the story of six cops and a very unsavory snitch who comes to see the cops while they’re playing their weekly poker game,” said Cohen. “It’s the night of one of those big Powerball lotteries, and it turns out this loathsome human being has the winning ticket.” When the cops decide to grab the $84 million ticket, the relationship between the pals deteriorates.

Cohen has already talked about the film to some of his “Rat Pack” stars, who include Ray Liotta, Don Cheadle, Joe Mantegna and Angus Macfayden. “Rat Pack” preemed Friday in East Hampton and unspools tonight in Hollywood. In casting actors to play such well-known celebs, Cohen avoided lookalikes or singers. The lone exception was giving the small role of comic Joey Bishop to comedian Bobby Slayton, who demonstrated his comic prowess when exiting last week’s East Hampton premiere by telling anyone who would listen that “I carried the movie. I was subtle about it, but this was all about Joey Bishop.” For his core Rat Packers, Cohen said he went for strong character portrayers. “I cast each of them for their rhythms, like Ray Liotta, who, if you saw ‘Dominic and Eugene’ and knew him in his private life, has a caring nature you don’t often see brought out,” said Cohen.

Partygoers talked about the vivisection that the Kennedy and Lawford clan received from the movie, and eyes darted, looking for the members from those clans who usually make the Hampton screenings. Cohen and screenwriter Kario Salem said they actually went light on the Kennedys, who some believe used Sinatra’s underworld contacts to help get JFK elected and then promptly discarded Old Blue Eyes because of those contacts. Salem, whose last effort for HBO was “Don King: Only in America,” now finds himself in much greater demand as a scribe than he ever was in his original Hollywood incarnation of actor. Salem has turned in the Martin Luther King Jr. film “Memphis,” which Oliver Stone hopes to direct after “On Any Given Sunday,” is rewriting the Mandalay film “The Score” for Chuck Russell, and is writing “Man-High” for Barry Levinson. The latter, said Salem, is “the true story of eccentric Air Force pilots who took balloons to the rim of space and then jumped back to Earth in parachutes.” Though unheralded, they tested space equipment and laid the groundwork for the first space missions, and even most of the sci-fi movies that feature aliens, since their activities accounted for many supposed UFO sightings.

Given his currency as a scribe, most might not recall that just a few years ago, Salem played such roles as the bleach blonde guy who taught Eric Stoltz to smoke heroin in “Killing Zoe,” or the grand inquisitor in the Ridley Scott-directed “1492.” “I started writing 4-1/2 years ago out of desperation, because I was so emasculated by that profession,” said Salem. “My regard is high for actors who endure pain and suffering that goes along with that profession, but I don’t miss that life at all.” It’s too bad, because his writing might have gotten him better roles. When Cohen told Ridley Scott he would be directing a Kario Salem script, he said Scott replied, “You mean the actor who played the grand inquisitor in my movie? If I knew he was such a genius, I might have let him play Christopher Columbus!”

DISNEY POPS FOR PENGUINS: Walt Disney Pictures has popped for mid-six figures upfront for “Emperor’s Egg,” a pitch by Richard Rothstein for a film designed to bring penguins to life with animatronics, a la “Babe.” The pic focuses on the emperor penguin, a species in which the mother lays an egg that is then protected by the father until it hatches while the mother forages for food. In the Rothstein version, which was agented by Jordan Bayer and Matt Leipzig of Original Artists, a reluctant dad is seemingly not responsible enough to become a father; he loses the egg and has to find it. Rothstein is the creator of the Showtime series “The Hitchhiker” and “Universal Soldier.”

A BIG STAR IN CHINA: Fred Dryer has agreed to be the guest of honor at the fourth Chinese Film Festival and heads for the Aug. 23-28 event with an interesting perspective. “From what they’ve told me,” said Dryer, “I am the biggest American star in China, and when they tell you there are 1.3 billion people who think you’re the biggest star in the world, you say you’re going.” The mainland mania for the actor is because of his long-running NBC series “Hunter.” Though Dryer hung up his LAPD badge and guns when the show ended in 1991, the reruns remain the most popular programming in the country. In addition to presiding over the opening and closing ceremonies, Dryer will be a guest lecturer at the Chinese Film School in Beijing and will visit several other territories. The popularity of the show there and in other foreign countries has Dryer looking to mount a “Hunter” film, possibly with ex-partner Stephanie Kramer. “We’re working on a storyline that would be partly shot in L.A., and mostly shot in China for about $5 million,” said Dryer. “I’ll be there talking about that, but I have an interest in what’s going on in the world in regard to TV and film, and China is the final frontier for those mediums. The country is changing for the better, and I’m grateful to be on the ground floor of that.”

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