Joan Chen is near a deal to direct the remake of Gilles Mimouni’s French thriller “L’Appartement” for Lakeshore Entertainment. In a deal made by Lakeshore co-chairman Tom Rosenberg and president Gary Lucchesi, Chen will be paid a seven-figure sum to supervise the adaptation of the remake, which is being called “The Apartment.”She effectively is filling the vacancy created by Joel Schumacher, who packed his bags and moved out when the film was close to production. The remake has been a priority for Rosenberg and Lucchesi since they saw the original at the 1997 Sundance Festival and optioned remake rights from Mimouni, producer Georges Benayoun and IMF Films. It was fast-tracked last year until Schumacher dropped out. The film was once near deals with Brendan Fraser and then Freddie Prinze Jr., and it’s unclear now who will star. Once the preeminent actress in China, Chen is fast making a name for herself behind the camera. Chen, who will be honored in Sundance as one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch, drew acclaim for her debut “Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl,” which she shot in China. She got her first studio job directing Richard Gere and Winona Ryder in “Autumn in New York,” a Lakeshore/MGM film that is in post-production and whose results got her the second Lakeshore job. “We are so thrilled with the outcome of ‘Autumn in New York’ that we wanted to have Joan on board to give this movie her special, unique touch,” said Rosenberg. Chen’s deal was made by her reps at Innovative Artists and managers at the Rigberg-Roberts Co. with Lakeshore senior exec veep Eric Reid. PEARL HARBOR PEARLS: The talk in Hollywood has been the ongoing battle by producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay to move forward on the Randall Wallace-scripted “Pearl Harbor.” That duo has severely cut fees to trim the budget to $130 million and now that a greenlight seems likely, talk has turned to casting. Dish hears Bay wants Wes Bentley (“American Beauty”) and Jim Caviezel (“The Thin Red Line”) to play two fighter pilots from Tennessee, with Charlize Theron to play the nurse they both love. The dilemma is getting three in-demand thesps to commit six months for small upfront money, when other studios are offering full freight. (Of course, Ben Affleck took about $600,000 for Bay and Bruckheimer’s last film, “Armageddon,” and watched his per-pic price rise instantly to $5 million on the strength of the film.) Many Hollywood dealmakers feel Disney has a lot riding on this greenlight — and it’s more than the fate of one film. Industryites are looking for signals about Disney’s commitment to live-action films in the post-Joe Roth era, and are watching this deal closely. Some wonder what it will mean if the studio gives facials to Bruckheimer (its resident hitmaking producer) or Bay (its resident franchise director, who has hit the billion-dollar mark in worldwide grosses with just three films). There are pros and cons for the studio. The “Pearl Harbor” budget is near the cost of several event films coming this summer and consistent with the “Armageddon” cost. And “Armageddon,” closing on $600 million worldwide, is Disney’s fourth-biggest film ever. Of course, that film had Bruce Willis, and it’s unclear whether this budget could afford a big-ticket star. The key will be the commitment by Bruckheimer and Bay to stay on budget: Word is the original “Armageddon” budget started as $100 million and swelled to $140 million. A comparable overage on “Pearl Harbor” would put that film dangerously close to “Titanic” territory. GIGOLO’S NEXT GIG: The success of “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” means Rob Schneider will be remembered for more than just being the copy machine guy from “Saturday Night Live.” The film’s surprisingly strong gross of nearly $60 million has put him in high demand; several studios are chasing the comic for his next film, hoping he can follow in the footsteps of pal Adam Sandler, who exec produced “Bigalow.” Schneider wants to write and star in another vehicle, and Disney, the studio that made “Bigalow,” has the inside track. He’s expected to make a decision shortly. FROM TUBE TO TUBE ADAPTATION: Matt LeBlanc, co-star of the TV’s top-rated comedy “Friends,” has joined Columbia’s bigscreen version of the TV show “Charlie’s Angels.” Though he’ll be unbilled, LeBlanc will play the love interest of Lucy Liu, who with Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz comprise the trio. His character is an action hero movie star who doesn’t realize his girlfriend fights bad guys for real. It’s LeBlanc’s first film turn since he starred in another TV series adaptation, “Lost in Space.” The actor is repped by UTA and lawyered by Geoff Oblath of Armstrong Hirsch. BUSCEMI BEATING BUSHES: Steve Buscemi preemed his second directing effort in Sundance Monday night in “Animal Factory,” a film that gets its origins from indie darling “Reservoir Dogs.” “It was written by Eddie Bunker, whom I met while we were both acting in ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ ” said Buscemi. “We fell out of touch until Danny Trejo, with whom I did ‘Desperado’ and ‘Con Air,’ told me Eddie had this script and wanted me to direct.” The pic’s about the attempt by a veteran con (Willem Dafoe) to redeem himself by keeping safe a young prisoner (Edward Furlong) who would otherwise be forcibly courted by other cons. Both Bunker and Trejo are ex-cons who lent an air of reality to the gritty pic. “We shot at Holmsburg, an inactive prison in Philadelphia, and used real convicts from surrounding prisons,” Buscemi said. “It was the middle of summer, we had 29 days and it was really hot, so it was an organizational challenge. But setting it in prison made the relationship between the two men special, because prison might be the hardest place for two people to make a real connection.” Though the pic’s not competing, Buscemi hopes to connect with interested distributors. He’ll likely take some acting jobs before directing again.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more