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‘Mickey’ men team again

As John Grisham and director Hugh Wilson prepare to shop for distribution on their recently completed film “Mickey,” the duo is already making plans to team again on “Skipping Christmas.”

The author and director personally financed the Grisham-scripted “Mickey,” and might seek nontraditional financing again for “Christmas,” a holiday season-set comedy. Doubleday will publish the novel this fall, and Wilson plans on making it his next film, with hopes of having it in theaters for Christmas, 2002.

“Mickey’s” plot, though hatched before the current Little League scandal, is now playing out in national headlines: Officials have ruled that World Series standout pitcher Danny Almonte concealed his age. His parents are charged with supplying a bogus birth certificate that hid the fact he was 14, two years older than the league maximum.

Pic stars Harry Connick Jr. as a lawyer who must deal with his terminally ill wife, cheats on his taxes and is faced with two years of jail time. It starts with his son winning his last little league game, but falsified documents obtained later say he’s 12 and he continues to play. He then throws the first Little League World Series no-hitter since 1954. (Almonte pitched the first World Series tournament perfect game in 44 years.)

“It’s a coincidence and I don’t know if it’s good or bad,” said Wilson. “(But) John and I would like it known he wrote this script four years ago.”

WILSON SAID THE FILM can be ready for theaters this fall or next summer, since it’s almost finished post-production. He’s put a temporary soundtrack on it and will show it to distributors in New York and L.A. beginning this month.

Grisham has a passionate devotion to little league: After learning of a paucity of fields in the Charlottesville, Va. area (where both Grisham and Wilson live), the author built a complex with seven ballfields, often cutting the grass himself. That’s why Little League officials allowed he and Wilson to shoot crowd footage and an appearance by President George W. Bush at the actual tournament in Williamsport, Pa.

“I was there when Almonte pitched his perfect game, and when I asked coaches what they thought, they said he was unhittable, but they all said they’d heard he was 14,” said Wilson.

Almonte’s team has since been stripped of its tournament victories and the young pitcher and his family have been disgraced.

The hurler in “Mickey” faces a similar fate. “It parallels the ending here, which makes it unusual for a G-rated sports film, something that probably would have been impossible if a studio had financed it instead of us,” said Wilson.

Wilson, whose past pics include “First Wives Club” and “Guarding Tess,” said both he and Grisham were reinvigorated by bankrolling and controlling the film themselves. That led to plans to follow with “Skipping Christmas,” and preliminary talks to collaborate on a more expensive level with “The Brethren.”

“John had tried writing scripts, but hadn’t been enjoying the moviemaking process anymore than I had, and we just decided to take a chance and make a movie for what we joked would be the price of cab fare in Hollywood,” said Wilson. “We so much enjoyed being a cottage industry, it made it fun again for both of us. We brought the film in under budget, and we decided to cast kids who could play baseball.”

GRISHAM IS ALSO JOINING FORCES with producer Mark Johnson on an adaptation of his recent novel, “A Painted House” (Daily Variety, May 15). The author suddenly finds himself in the middle of a flurry of film activity, as New Regency has revamped its once-stalled adaptation of the Grisham bestseller “Runaway Jury.” Like “Mickey,” that film’s fictional premise was affected by true events.

The film nearly went into production with Joel Schumacher directing Edward Norton, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sean Connery in a drama about how a jury foreman steers a verdict on a trial that imperils the unblemished track record of the tobacco industry in liability litigation. When actual verdicts prompted the tobaccomakers to agree to a $246 billion settlement in 1998, it made the plot seem so dated that the film fell apart. With Grisham’s support, New Regency has altered the plot so that the legal crosshairs will now be on the gun manufacturers.

Wilson’s repped by ICM’s John Burnham, Grisham by David Gernert.

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