NEW YORK — Paul Verhoeven will next direct “Official Assassins,” a Phoenix Pictures-produced drama about the post WWII race between the U.S. and Russia to recruit German scientists to help develop weapons as the former allies brace for the Cold War. The drama focuses on two American CIA friends at odds over whether the former Nazi-sympathizing brainiacs should be set free, killed or prosecuted for war crimes.

Verhoeven committed late last week after reading a draft by Michael Beckner, who most recently wrote the Tony Scott-directed Brad Pitt-Robert Redford-starrer “Spy Game.”

Though best known for sci-fi films like “Hollow Man,” “Total Recall” and “Robocop,” Verhoeven had been working toward doing a historical film.

The director developed “Official Assassins” with Phoenix chief Mike Medavoy while he separately worked on other fact-based projects that include “Other Powers,” the Barbara Goldsmith book about suffragette Victoria Woodhull with Nicole Kidman.

Verhoeven said “Official Assassins” came together so well, with such an unusual historical premise, that he’s now looking at cast and a fall start date in Berlin, with Medavoy looking for financing and for distribution.

“It pinpoints the beginning of the Cold War in the fall of 1945, when American politics switched from considering the Germans evil to believing that their ally, the Russians, were the real enemy,” Verhoeven said.

“I’ve been trying to move toward projects that can be popular entertainment that connect with history, the way that ‘Gladiator’ did so well. There are compelling issues here, about the criminality of the Germans and how politics can so quickly turn an enemy into a friend. But at its heart, the film is a murder mystery that deals with areas of moral ambiguity I haven’t been able to delve into since ‘Basic Instinct.’ ”

Medavoy said Verhoeven has thrived on those kinds of conflicts not only in “Basic Instinct,” but in early films like “Soldier of Orange.”

“With all that has happened in the former Yugoslavia, there are contemporary themes dealing with how the designation of war criminals depends on who is in power, and how governments might let those people off if they can be of use to them,” Medavoy said.

Medavoy added that some of the real German scientists most coveted by the U.S. and Russians were involved in cruel experiments with Jews and Russian POWs, situations that tested the morals of the pols and CIA agents assigned to track them down and figure out what to do with them. Verhoeven was repped by manager Marion Rosenberg and CAA.

PAR’S LONGEST YARD REDO EYES A NEW BALL

Paramount is remaking the sports classic “The Longest Yard,” but rather than rehash the pigskin exploits of Burt Reynolds and cohorts, Par has shifted the venue to a British prison and the sport to soccer. “The Mean Machine” will be directed by Barry Skolnick, and may boast the hip irreverence of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” if only because the lead guys starred in that film. Vinny Jones, the tough guy who starred in “Lock, Stock,” plays the lead, a former soccer star pressed into leading an inmate team against abusive guards. Joining him is “Lock, Stock” costar Vas Blackwood, with Jason Stathem also playing a role.

The pic is produced by Matt Vaughn. Blackwood is currently shooting “The Escapist” with Johnny Lee Miller in Ireland and will next be seen in “Romeo’s Era” and “Nine Dead Gay Guys.” Both Blackwood and Stathem are repped by Current Entertainment, Jones by ICM.

’70S DUO ON DELINE WITH BLIND DEAL

As he nears the completion of production on the Harold Becker-directed “Domestic Disturbance” with John Travolta, Vince Vaughn and Steve Buscemi, producer Donald DeLine has made a mid-six figure deal at Paramount for an original script to be written by Josh Sternin and Jeff Ventimilia. They’re the duo who parlayed “That ’70s Show” to a swarm of feature work. The scribes have done rewrite work on “The First $20 Million Is the Hardest” and “Dr. Dolittle 2,” and generated buzz with the Sony comedies “Surviving Christmas,” “The Messiah Complex” and “Men’s Room Attendant,” all with producers Betty Thomas and Jenno Topping. The ICM-repped writers are now pitching ideas to DeLine and the studio.

NO NEED FOR RESCUE

“Stepmom” scribe Gigi Levangie, whose debut Simon & Schuster novel “Rescue Me” is being developed as a film at Fox Searchlight by Carl Franklin, has made a deal for a literary followup. Levangie, who’s the wife of Imagine chief Brian Grazer, is writing “Maneater,” a novel which S&S publisher David Rosenthal is calling “Jackie Collins on acid.” It will include composites of many in her Hollywood social circle. An ambitious L.A. girl targets the club-footed son of a midwestern department store magnate as her shortcut to the good life. She beds and weds him and is already pregnant by the time hubby confesses he has been disowned and is penniless. The novel was set up by WMA and AMG, and hasn’t yet been shopped for features. Levangie is creating literal buzz over her scripted segment of the next HBO “If These Walls Could Talk,” which tackles the birth of the vibrator in 1919. She also just finished the Marc Platt-produced Universal comedy “Natural Man,” about a guy who chooses to stay home and raise the kids while his wife works, a non-traditional arrangement that imperils the marriage.

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