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Smith moves ‘Uptown’

Poitier/Cosby pic gets WB remake

Warner Bros. has closed a deal to remake “Uptown Saturday Night” as a potential starring vehicle for Will Smith.

The film will be produced by Smith and his Overbrook Entertainment partner James Lassiter, who have long chased the rights. The deal also covers rights to the film’s two sequels, “Let’s Do It Again” and “A Piece of the Action.”

Released in 1974 and directed by recent Lifetime Achievement Oscar winner Sidney Poitier, “Uptown Saturday Night” starred Poitier and Bill Cosby as buddies who go uptown to chase some crooks who’ve stolen their winning lottery ticket.

The film was groundbreaking for several reasons: It was one of the first comedies that featured two black leads and crossed over to become a mainstream hit; it featured many top African-American stars of the period; and it distinguished itself from a flood of radical and violent blaxploitation films by offering a premise that appealed to a family audience.

“For mine and Will’s generation, this was the ultimate comedy, and we still watch it at least once a year,” Lassiter said. “We’ve been pursuing these rights for eight years, back to when Will was on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ but we could never get the title.”

Smith even tried his hand at writing a buddy comedy that borrowed from the film’s spirit but dropped it when he joined Martin Lawrence in the action comedy “Bad Boys.” While he and Lawrence are prepping to reprise their roles in a sequel at Columbia that will be directed by Michael Bay at Columbia once Ron Shelton turns in a rewrite, Smith and Lassiter never forgot about “Uptown Saturday Night.”

The film finally came together at Warner Bros., where Smith is in talks to star for Bay in “I Am Legend.”

WB, which distributed the film, owns a partial stake in that and other First Artists films that were conceived by Freddie Fields and David Begelman to give filmmakers complete creative control. WB and CAA then worked with Yorem Roth, who holds rights to the trilogy, and forged the remake deal. Roth will exec produce the film, which is being eyed as a potential franchise.

The comedy will be shepherded by WB’s Kevin McCormick and Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Coming off an enjoyable “Ocean’s Eleven” experience of having assembled an all-star cast for a reasonable upfront price, WB wants to pack “Uptown Saturday Night” with top African-American talent.

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