WITH JUST ABOUT every major star booked into a project before next summer’s possible strikes, studios are now trying to see if some top A-listers could squeeze in another picture. Warner Bros. is in talks with Donald Petrie to direct “Till Death Do Us Part,” an update of the 1979 comedy “The In-Laws.” WB has high hopes it can lock in Michael Douglas and Billy Crystal to play a mismatched pair whose kids are marrying, and who get in trouble in foreign locales. The real cliffhanger, of course, is whether that is feasible before the possible WGA/SAG strikes next summer.

The original comedy was scripted by Andrew Bergman and directed by Arthur Hiller, and paired a dentist and CIA agent in South America. The new script was written by Nat Mauldin, whose credits include “Dr. Dolittle” and “The Preacher’s Wife.” Douglas has been interested in the film for some time, but while such a pic would usually be an easy booking, logistics have become the primary concern. Fresh from getting married Saturday to Catherine Zeta-Jones in New York, Douglas starts work in early December in the Fox psychological drama “Don’t Say a Word.” Crystal, meanwhile, will be working with Zeta-Jones, Julia Roberts, and John Cusack in “America’s Sweethearts.” Pending a commitment by the thesps, which has yet to happen, the film might have to join a slow-growing list of projects from “Blue Streak 2″ to “Men in Black 2″ and “Catch Me if You Can,” that are being penciled in as the first post-strike projects of big stars. Douglas and Crystal’s WMA said no offers have yet been made by WB.

WHEN IT COMES TO TOP-TIER STARS who’ve still got an opening for a film that could begin production early next year, Mel Gibson is the last man standing. Gibson, whose next film, the holiday comedy “What Women Want” is creating strong buzz, pondered taking time off, and directing Robert Downey Jr. in an L.A. stage run of “Hamlet.” Now it looks like the curtain won’t rise until spring, and just about every studio in town has offered their best stuff to Gibson.

The project with the highest buzz factor is “The Lost Patrol,” a pic which, if it comes together, would mark a “Braveheart” reteam with Randall Wallace, who wrote the script and will direct. Wallace, who made his directing debut on “The Man in the Iron Mask,” got an Oscar nom for scripting the Gibson-directed “Braveheart,” and here tackles the story of the first battle between U.S. and Viet Cong troops, in which 400 soldiers were helicoptered in and surrounded by 2000 enemy troops. It’s based on the book, “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young,” which told the story from the vantage point of Harold Moore, commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, and Joseph Galloway, a reporter who was on the scene for the 34-day battle.

Gibson’s made no commitment to the film, which was being shepherded by Revolution, but could land elsewhere if Gibson’s Icon company comes involved in distributing foreign territories. Paramount, where Icon is based, is a possibility. He’s repped by ICM’s Ed Limato.

“PRICE” RIGHT FOR CANTON: The Canton Co. has paid mid-six figures to buy Adam Gibgot’s spec script “Price,” a drama inspired by a true story about an Internet entrepreneur who, on the verge of striking it rich, suffers a nervous breakdown. Just before he loses everything and is institutionalized, the man discovers through the Internet that several of his high school friends are debilitated by similar symptoms. They wonder whether their illnesses are connected to a kid they used to taunt, who now works for the Department of Defense and is in a position to exact revenge. Brian Hochman’s aboard to co-produce the pic, which was brought in by Canton Co.’s Nathan Kahane.

Gibgot’s got several projects percolating, including a New Line pic he’s writing with Toby Emmerich called “Confidence Men,” a John Davis-produced pic about two conmen recruited by the CIA. Gibgot also co-created with publicist Lara Shriftman “The It Girl,” a sitcom just set up with Jersey TV and the Fox Network that Gibgot describes as “Sex and the City,” with the girls a decade younger and not as jaded as the HBO quartet. Much like that hit HBO series, it is based on the columns of Candace Bushnell, “The It Girl” is inspired by the adventures of Shriftman, who was one of the trio of publicists whose lives were detailed in a memorable New York Mag cover story that got optioned by Columbia Pictures. Gibgot and Shriftman will co-produce, while Christina Lynch and Loren Segan will write the pilot and exec produce with Jersey TV topper John Landgraf. Gibgot’s repped by ICM and attorney Stewart Brockman.

SINISE’S “GENTLEMAN’S GAME” TURN: Gary Sinise will join Philip Baker Hall, Mason Gamble and Dylan Baker in “A Gentleman’s Game,” a drama to be directed J. Mills Goodloe, from a script by Goodloe and Tom Coyne. Pic’s a drama about a group whose lives are transformed one summer at an exclusive East Coast country club. Sinise’s role is pivotal, but he’ll knock it out in a week of work, much like he did in “The Green Mile.” The film is the second go picture from Artists Production Group, the indie film company hatched by AMG’s Mike Ovitz, Rick Yorn, Julie Silverman Yorn and Cathy Schulman. That division launched with Ed Burns’ “Sidewalks of New York,” which will be distribbed by Paramount Classics, and “Timeline,” the adaptation of the Michael Crichton bestseller that Richard Donner will direct and which is about to cast up.

APG’s also prepping “28th Amendment” at Warner Bros., and “Rainbow Six,” an adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel. Sinise, Oscar-nommed for “Forrest Gump,” was last seen in “Mission to Mars,” and stars in the Gary Fleder-directed sci-fi film “Imposter.” Sinise is repped by CAA.

“ERBE TO “DRAGONFLY”: Kathryn Erbe has landed the female lead opposite Kevin Costner in the Tom Shadyac-directed “Dragonfly,” about a widowed doc who feels he’s getting messages from his wife through his dying patients. The pic just began filming in Chicago and L.A. and Erbe, last seen in “Stir of Echoes,” joins “Dragonfly” after wrapping the John McNaughton-directed “Speaking of Sex” with Bill Murray. She’s repped by the Gersh Agency and Estelle Lasher of LMRK.

“SHIPPING” GETS NEW ORDERS: Director Lasse Hallstrom has brought in his “Chocolat” collaborator Robert Nelson Jacobs to do a rewrite of “The Shipping News,” the Hallstrom-directed Miramax adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie L. Proulx novel which will star Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore. The pic, about an emotionally beaten man who moves with his two young daughters to his ancestral home in Newfoundland to reclaim his life, has a March 2001 start date. Jacobs is also working on two other pics for Miramax, “Solomon Grundy,” a Richard Gladstein-produced fantasy about a man who lives his entire life in less than a week, and “The Water Horse,” a family film that will be produced by Sarah Curtis and Douglas Rae. Jacobs, who previously wrote “Out to Sea” and “Dinosaur,” is repped by Gersh Agency’s Frank Wuliger.

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