Fox has dibs on returning Hughes sibs

'Menace' brothers' next project may star Portman

Back “From Hell” and a sabbatical from the movie business, directors Allen and Albert Hughes have staked their Underworld Entertainment banner to an overall deal at 20th Century Fox.

They hope to get on track with a new project they’ve set up at the studio as a starring vehicle for Natalie Portman, who just completed her second leg of the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy for the studio.

The brothers are mum on the subject matter of the untitled project, but the effort signals a determination to recapture the momentum they had when they led a wave of politically charged urban films including “Menace II Society” and “Dead Presidents.”

The Hugheses’ last deal was at Universal, and duo most recently directed “From Hell,” the Jack the Ripper tale starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham. The Fox release was not a big hit, but the brothers feel it demonstrated their range.

“The film got decent reviews but probably didn’t benefit by coming out right after Sept. 11,” said Allen Hughes. “But it made studios realize that we are not ‘hood directors and not limited to making black films. It showed that we have a voice and imagination and that we can do all kinds of films.”

Since then, the Hughes brothers spent some free time in Europe, and directed such commercials as the flashy Nike basketball campaign which turned NBA stars into funky ABA players of the 1970s. They also have directed videos for such bands as Korn. Having just turned 30, the siblings feel it is time to make movies again, and they expect to be busy at Fox.

“We did our first film at 20, and didn’t have those college partying years that everyone else did,” said Allen Hughes. “This industry tends to spoil guys who are too young to handle it, and it just seemed that the best thing for us was to go out and live life a little bit. But we have just turned 30, and we have gotta get cracking again.”

The WMA-repped duo has aligned with the Firm to branch out into music, videos and commercials; they will be repped by Rick and Julie Yorn and Jeff Kwatinetz.

Portman, in between “Star Wars” installments, has joined the cast of the Anthony Minghella-directed “Cold Mountain.”

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