Dish

Fox and Jan De Bont have completed a deal to forge the cult scifi novel series “Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat” into a feature for the “Twister” helmer to direct.

Based on a series written by Harry Harrison, the reclusive author best known for “Soylent Green,” “Stainless Steel Rat” took a long twisting road toward the big screen. The Fox deal comes a full 16 years after it was optioned by producers Bill McCutchen and Frank Agrama, who resisted numerous offers before agreeing to terms with De Bont and his Blue Tulip partner Lucas Foster. For Foster, the deal is the culmination of an eight-year quest to turn the book series into a film.

The novel’s a futuristic action series hatched in 1959 by Harrison. It revolves around Jim DeGris, a crafty conman who gets caught and, to avoid a long prison stretch, agrees to use his talents as a cop. He becomes a Robin Hood-type character and often strays on the wrong side of the law, especially when paired with a femme fatale he decides would make a perfect partner, even after she ends their first meeting by putting a bullet in him. “I love the characters and the setup, which is inventive, imaginative and fun, a space-aged James Bond,” said De Bont. “It can be a major franchise.”

McCutchen and Agrama were approached for years by A-list filmmakers, but spurned deals in which they were invited to cash checks and get out of the way. De Bont and Foster were the first to invite their collaboration. Foster already knew the duo, since he has chased the rights in every film job he held, coming closest while he was an exec at Turner Pictures.

“The best part of it for me is this Nick and Nora relationship he has with this beautiful woman who is so much smarter and dangerous than he’d ever thought of being,” said Foster, who read the books while a teenager. “The first time she meets him, she shoots him and he falls in love with her. He shows up to protect her from people even more dangerous than she is, and she becomes a cop. While he gets out of improbable situations using his brain, she uses any weapon she can get her hands on, which changes the traditional dynamic around a bit.” The script’s being written by Eric Blakeney, best known for the TV series “Wise Guy” and for writing and directing “Gunshy.” Writers & Artists repped McCutchen and Agrama.

De Bont said he has not yet chosen his next directorial vehicle and is awaiting several scripts before deciding. The most promising are the Fox-based “Food,” the John Mattson-scripted pic about Thanksgiving dinner from the vantage point of the edibles; “LAX,” the Paramount-based action film about a heist at the airport scripted by Robert Pucci; and “The 28th Amendment,” the Warner Bros.-based drama scripted by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. De Bont is repped by David Gersh of the Gersh Agency.

BALDWIN GOES TO “CATS AND DOGS”: Alec Baldwin will join the chorus of voices in “Like Cats and Dogs,” the Larry Guterman-directed live action/animated film for Warner Bros. that features the vocal talents of Tobey Maguire, Susan Sarandon and Michael Clarke Duncan. The pic follows the story of an untested pup who helps the dog world’s secret service thwart a feline super criminal’s cat comrades from taking over the world. Baldwin is currently acting in the Michael Bay-directed “Pearl Harbor,” and will next be seen as Justice Robert Jackson in the TNT Original Film “Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial,” which he exec produced. He’ll next be seen onscreen in the David Mamet-directed “State & Main” for Fine Line. Baldwin’s repped by William Morris.

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