Walken may join cat-and-mouse drama

The movie biz is greeting the New Year with newfound brio, expediting production on several megabudget pics, the latest being DreamWorks’ “Catch Me If You Can.”

Christopher Walken is in talks to join the cast of the long-gestating cat-and-mouse drama, which stars Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. Steven Spielberg is helming and producing the pic, which is tentatively set to start production in February in L.A. Other locations still are being scouted.

Talent salaries might have helped push the pic’s budget past $75 million going in, but deferments by some parties are believed to be keeping costs somewhat contained. DreamWorks reps would not discuss the budget. The company has made plenty of big-budget titles — including the $110 million “Gladiator” — but many have been co-ventures.

Money aside, “Catch Me” figures to be a quick turnaround, as DreamWorks is holding an unspecified holiday release spot for it.

Pic is the only fourth-quarter title currently on the docket for DreamWorks, whose 2002 slate also includes Hanks’ teaming with director Sam Mendes, “The Road to Perdition.”

The company announced Monday that production is under way on “Old School,” a summer comedy helmed by Todd Phillips under the Montecito Picture Co. banner. Toplining are Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn.

Other major pics entering production in the coming weeks are Universal’s “The Hulk,” Miramax’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and Paramount’s “Timeline.” Sequels such as “X-Men 2″ and “Terminator 3″ are angling for mid-year starts.

The ICM-repped Walken, who will play DiCaprio’s father in “Catch,” will segue to the DreamWorks pic from “Gigli.” Latter pic, under Martin Brest’s direction, is in production and stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Spielberg is producing the Revolution-based project with DreamWorks co-head of production Walter Parkes. Sony is distributing domestically.

Adapted by Jeff Nathanson, “Catch Me” is based on the autobiography of Frank Abagnale Jr., who holds the distinction as the youngest man ever placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

The 1980 memoir recounts Abagnale’s exploits as a charlatan and counterfeiter who ran away from home at age 16. From 1964 to 1970, Abagnale cashed $2.5 million in bad checks and impersonated an airline pilot, a stockbroker and even the associate attorney general of Louisiana.

DiCaprio will play Abagnale, Hanks the FBI agent who hunts him down.

Before Spielberg stepped in as director, helmers such as Gore Verbinski, Lasse Hallstrom, Milos Foreman and Cameron Crowe were attached to the project.

The memoir was first optioned in 1990 by Michel Shane and subsequently was developed at Paramount.

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