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Universal, Rock pour pic double

Michael Fleming: Dish

Universal is trying to keep its half-nelson hold on grappler-turned-movie star The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson.

The studio has acquired two projects with an eye toward the wrestler: an untitled pitch to be written by Oscar winner Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”), and spec script “Hunting Bronze,” a rugged action comedy written by tyro scribe (and soon to be former Gersh Agency assistant) Joseph C. Muscat.

The Rock is firmly attached to “Bronze” and is in pole position to topline the Helgeland effort.

The projects come as U tries to keep The Rock, who, despite a spandex-thin film resume, has shown evidence that his following will follow him to theaters. Debuting in “The Mummy Returns,” The Rock, who is repped by Endeavor, logged only about 10 minutes of screen time but became a major selling point for a sequel that outgrossed the original with $415 million worldwide. U brass and “Mummy” architects Stephen Sommers, Jim Jacks and Sean Daniel spun his character into a separate film, which became the Chuck Russell-directed “The Scorpion King,” a 2002 actioner on which The Rock earned $5.5 million.

Both the Helgeland project and “Hunting Bronze” will be produced by Kevin Misher, the former U production prexy who became a producer on “Scorpion King” with Sommers, Jacks and Daniel. Helgeland has crafted such star vehicles as the Mel Gibson-starrer “Payback” and most recently the Heath Ledger-starrer “A Knight’s Tale.” The studio cautioned that Helgeland isn’t writing the piece specifically for The Rock, and he won’t direct it, though the CAA-repped scribe will likely have a producing capacity with Misher.

Misher is producing with Jan De Bont “Hunting Bronze,” a Midnight Run-like action comedy to which The Rock is firmly attached, playing a bounty hunter who tries to corral a fugitive before a rogue cop seeking revenge finds and kills him. Pic was scripted by Muscat, who for three years has been the assistant to veteran Gersh agent Scott Yoselow in New York.

After Yoselow brokered Muscat’s deal with manager Jonathan Hung, Muscat’s decided to head to Hollywood and write fulltime after joining Gersh from NYU.

“It turned out to be great training because I got to know people and what they were buying,” “You learn not to write a romantic comedy about a guy with a dog because there are six others out there.”

After taking off four months to topline “The Scorpion King,” The Rock has resumed his rigorous ring schedule, capturing last weekend the WCW title and currently lining up a showdown with WWF beltholder “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Several studios are engaged in a battle for his next available movie slot, which will come in the winter. Both U films will be aspirants for that title.

HEAD” SHRINKER: Dustin Hoffman, who just wrapped the Brad Silberling-directed “Baby’s in Black,” has made a New Line deal for a project he hatched, which will be written by David Wiger as a starring vehicle for the Oscar winner. “Head Case” is a comedy that is set in the world of competitive tennis, and revolves around the relationship of a young, highly-ranked male player and his sports psychologist. The Endeavor-repped Hoffman intends to play the sports shrink and his Punch Prods. banner will produce the film. Hoffman is prepping his directorial debut at Disney, an adaptation of the Scott Turow novel “Personal Injuries.”

PERMUT’S AMMO: If you have an unusual angle, WWII pics have never been hotter, as evidenced by HBO’s series “Band of Brothers,” the John Woo-directed MGM drama “Windtalkers” and the Warner Bros. drama “The Captain and the Shark,” which Barry Levinson hopes to direct with Mel Gibson. “Face/Off” producer David Permut and filmmaker Terry Benedict will shop to studios another completely unique take on the war. They’ve secured life rights of Private First Class Desmond T. Doss, who was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner despite refusing to bear arms on religious grounds. Doss got drafted and was ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance. But Doss was no coward, refusing an easy exit and instead serving as with conscientious objector status. He won his Medal of Honor after saving 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa, without firing a shot. The script will be written by Benedict, who wrote and directed the 1995 pic “Painted Hero.” Permut will produce while Permut Presentations production veep Steve Longi will co-produce, with Joel Kramer and Greg Crosby associate producers. Permut’s got a bunch of pics percolating around town, including the MTV/Paramount comedy “Army Band,” and the Sam Kinison biopic “Brother Sam,” with Tom Shadyac and Universal. He’s in pre-production on a Touchstone concert film with comic Eddie Griffin and has Jeff Nathanson scripting the Touchstone-based “Providence,” based on the true story of how the FBI waged a sting operation under the guise of making a feature film in Rhode Island. Benedict was repped by Gersh and attorney Linda Lichter repped Permut.

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