While John Woo’s still shooting “Mission: Impossible 2” in Australia, the director has agreed to make his next mission “Windtalkers,” a large-scale WWII pic for MGM for which he hopes to draft his “Face/Off” star Nicolas Cage.
Woo has agreed to make the film his next one, subject to landing his leading man. It’s a coup for a studio, which picked up the orphaned project — penned by John Rice and Joe Batteer — last year, mainly in hopes of wooing the Hong Kong director.
MGM president Michael Nathanson wouldn’t comment on casting, but confirmed the deal with Woo, which he says gives his rebounding studio a potential tentpole project that he hopes will shoot next summer in Hawaii.
The story focuses on an unlikely friendship between two soldiers at a time when the Japanese were deciphering U.S. codes. According to Nathanson, “The Marines came up with the idea of using the Navajo language, which is so complicated that, other than full-blooded Navajo, only 12 people could speak it. The Native Americans were given battle-hardened bodyguards who were assigned to protect them; but, if the Navajos were under threat of capture, the bodyguards’ job was to kill them to protect the code.”
Woo wants Cage to play the bodyguard, and sources said his CAA and Brillstein-Grey reps are trying to work out a deal. “Windtalkers” will be produced by Woo and partner Terence Chang, along with Alison Rosenzweig and Tracie Graham.
Woo, who wraps the Tom Cruise pic within two months, will begin prepping “Windtalkers” in January. Nathanson was buoyed by the surprise success of “Stigmata” and felt “Windtalkers” a strong addition to a lineup that includes the “Pink Panther” remake, the John McTiernan-directed redo of “Rollerball,” and “Basic Instinct 2,” on which he’s negotiating with Sharon Stone. Woo’s repped by William Morris.
BEWITCHING ‘BLAIR’ TALE: Amidst all the press on “Blair Witch Project” is the untold story of an unsung hero, screenwriter Neil Tolkin. Tolkin came to the picture early by way of Kevin Foxe; Foxe became the film’s executive producer partly because he was able to steer the filmmakers to money they needed to complete the film. Dish hears that Tolkin was asked for cash and politely declined, but hooked them up with his brother-in-law, a Connecticut-based bond trader named Bob Eick.
Eick put up $90,000 in finishing funds, an investment that will pay him $20 million to $25 million, said sources — easily one of the most profitable investments ever made in a film.
Tolkin then sent the filmmakers to his Endeavor agent, Steve Rabineau, who signed them immediately, as did Tolkin’s attorney, Stuart Rosenthal. Endeavor brought the pic to Sundance and made the Artisan deal that could bring the filmmakers $70 million. So while Artisan, the filmmakers, Endeavor and the brother-in-law got rich, the scribe who helped it happen hasn’t made a dime.
He could have put up the $90,000, or even $10,000 (which would have earned him at least $2 million), but declined. But perhaps karma is working for Tolkin: He has just landed a high six-figure payday from Disney for his pitch “Area 99,” and he’s getting paid a bundle to rewrite “Cat and Mouse” after Fox picked up a project orphaned by Sony.
RUSH HOUR FOR TUCKER: He’s not acted since “Rush Hour” grossed $140 million, but Chris Tucker is the focus of attention from studios all over town as execs wonder what he’ll do next, where, and for how much.
After Tucker declared his next pic would be “Guess Who’s President?” New Line stepped up, trying to make a two-pic deal for that pic and a sequel to “Rush Hour.” It’s not an easy deal: His best payday was the $3 million he got for that pic, but Dish hears he wants $45 million for the two pics. New Line’s hedging, and Tucker’s looking at a New Regency comedy called “Black Knight,” to be directed by F. Gary Gray, who helmed Tucker in “Friday.”
There’s also talk Imagine might revive “Double-O Soul,” a pic on which Tucker was once pacted for $7.5 million against 7% of box office gross before the pic stalled. Dish hears Tucker would like to pact for a film to hit theaters by summer, but studios seem reticent on funding what would be the movie biz’s most sudden rise to the $20 million ranks. The studios would rather pay him $10 million to $15 million (though the “Rush” payday would be higher).
Tucker’s also mulling a concert film, Dish hears, though his camp said he’s still on track for “Guess” for an October start. It’s anyone’s guess who’s distributing. Tucker’s repped by AMG.
RAPAPORT ON ROLL: Michael Rapaport is the first to enlist in a starring role in Spike Lee’s pic “Bamboozled,” though a sterling cast is said to be circling, including Damon Wayans, Jada Pinkett and Savion Glover. Rapaport was last seen in the Renny Harlin-directed “Deep Blue Sea,” just finished a lead in Woody Allen’s next film, and stars with Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding in “Navy Diver.” He’s repped by Innovative’s Steven Levy, managed by Leverage Management and lawyered by Robert Offer.
FOX HAS CYCLOPS: James Marsden (“Disturbing Behavior”) has landed the final superhero role of Cyclops in “X-Men,” the Bryan Singer-directed pic on which Fox begins production this month, with Lauren Shuler Donner an Ralph Winter producing.
Here’s the superhero lineup on a film Fox hopes will be a big summer 2000 earner: Dougray Scott is Wolverine, Patrick Stewart is Professor X, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is Mystique, Tyler Mane is Sabertooth, Halle Berry is Storm, Famke Janssen is Jean Grey, and Anna Paquin is Rogue. On the side of evil is Ian McKellen as Magneto and “Phantom Menace” scourge Ray Park as Toad. Marsden, who just wrapped New Line’s “Sugar and Spice,” and “Gossip” for Warner Bros., is repped by Paradigm’s Sandy Dudek and Brillstein-Grey’s Andrea Pett-Joseph.