Basinger blesses ‘Child’; Roberts double dates

Kim Basinger is close to a deal to star for director Chuck Russell in the Paramount thriller “Bless the Child.” The best supporting actress winner for “L.A. Confidential” will shoot the millennium-themed thriller starting next month in Toronto.

Basinger committed to the film after a meeting with Russell on Friday. In a script originated by Cliff and Ellen Green that was rewritten by Don Roos and Russell, Basinger plays a psychiatric nurse charged with saving a child from the clutches of a Satanist. In the part as currently written, Basinger would play a grandmother and the child would be her autistic 6-year-old granddaughter, who was abandoned by her drug addicted mother.

Basinger, herself the mother of an infant, seems too young to play a granny, and there’s talk her character might become the child’s aunt.

Basinger just completed “I Dreamed of Africa,” the Hugh Hudson-directed biopic of Kenya-based activist Kuki Gallmann, which Sony will release this fall and which was produced by Stanley Jaffe and Allyn Stewart. Basinger’s repped by CAA, and Russell, whose credits include the $100 million grossers “The Mask” and “Eraser,” is repped by Wm. Morris’ Robert Stein.

ROBERTS ROMANCES THIS SUMMER: Romance is in the air for Julia Roberts this summer, but how much is too much? Paramount is playing an intriguing game of chicken with Universal over the release dates of rival romantic comedies starring Roberts. Though both have blockbuster potential, each would suffer from just five weeks between their releases. And there’s suspicion that Paramount has crowded Universal in an attempt to become partner on U’s Roberts starrer, “Notting Hill.”

U has been high on “Notting Hill” since the film came to the studio as part of the Polygram acquisition. The comedy, which stars Roberts and Hugh Grant, has gotten some of the best test scores a Roberts film has ever received, sources said. Universal set a June 18 release date last fall, hoping for the long run enjoyed by Roberts’ last big summer romantic comedy hit “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

Paramount rained on that parade recently by setting a July 30 date for “Runaway Bride,” now in post-production. That film is the long-awaited reteaming of Roberts with Richard Gere and director Garry Marshall — the trio’s last collaboration, “Pretty Woman,” turned Roberts into Hollywood’s most bankable female star. The close proximity of release dates has raised industry eyebrows, along with questions about Paramount’s motivation.

There’s suspicion that Par, with the June 11 John Travolta starrer “The General’s Daughter” and “South Park” on June 18 as its other big summer entries, booked “Runaway Bride” into the July date to intimidate Universal into inviting Par to partner on “Notting Hill” and maybe make U a partner on some other pic. Universal is seeking partners on new pics, and Dish hears the studio has been discreetly offering a stake in its other big summer entry, “The Mummy.”

But it makes little sense for U to seek a partner on “Notting Hill,” a pic that cost less than $38 million, and in addition to Roberts boasts Hugh Grant, screenwriter Richard Curtis and producer Duncan Kenworthy. That trio’s last romantic comedy together, “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” was an international cash machine.

Dish hears that if U made Par a partner, “Runaway Bride” would likely move to Thanksgiving, which would strengthen “Notting Hill’s” theatrical run. Paramount, which is in business with Lakeshore and Disney on “Bride,” denied the whole scenario, and Universal denied it’s considering any partner on the pic.

Two Roberts romantic comedies in a five-week span is already creating marketing problems. One benefit of having a Roberts film is she can command just about any magazine cover, and four are lined up for “Notting Hill,” along with a junket. As it stands now, she will not go back and do a separate press campaign for “Bride” if it sticks to that summer release date.

“You can’t do press on top of press,” said her spokeswoman. “She’s promoting ‘Notting Hill’ and hasn’t seen ‘Runaway Bride,’ though she’s looking forward to seeing it.”

Some feel Par will ultimately move its “Bride” berth, which is also crowding the release date of the next pic by Par franchise star Tom Cruise. He toplines the Stanley Kubrick-directed “Eyes Wide Shut,” which opens for Warner Bros. on July 16. One thing for sure, the summer jockeying is now in full swing, and release decisions are crucial.

WILL “WRONG” GET RIGHTED? After finding itself in the wrong place at the wrong time, the David Steinberg-directed comedy “The Wrong Guy” might soon be righted, thanks to a groundswell of support by comedy writers and the Aspen Comedy Festival.

“We had a distribution deal with Hollywood Pictures, which no longer exists, and the money came from Paragon, which went bankrupt, and we’ve been orphaned,” said Steinberg, the standup comic-turned-director. Disney’s decision to stick to event pics and family fare put this low-budget comedy that fits neither category in limbo.

Dave Foley (“NewsRadio”) stars as a bumbling exec who, thinking he’s been framed for a brutal murder, becomes a Richard Kimball-like fugitive. Trouble is, nobody suspects him, and nobody’s looking for him, except the real killer, who thinks he’s a pursuing cop.

In a similar development, nobody knew the pic was missing, either, so nobody stepped up to take it off Disney’s hands. “We were stuck, but we knew we had something, so with our own money we rented a screening room at the Directors Guild to show the film to comedy writers and producers,” Steinberg said. “By the fifth screening, we packed the biggest DGA auditorium, and people like Mike Myers and Garry Shandling were sending people to see it.”

Word spread to the organizers of the Aspen Comedy Festival, which will show the pic twice this week. Steinberg hopes it will flush out a distributor or pay web. “We’re very confident now that people like it,” he said. “We just want them to be able to see it.”

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