De Niro ‘On Fire’ for kidnapper pic

GOOD MORNING: Robert De Niro will hunt the kidnapper-killer of a 10-year-old girl in “Man on Fire” for director Tony Scott. With the entire country saddened by the Samantha Runnion tragedy, “Man on Fire” strikes a powerful note. De Niro plays the child’s loving bodyguard who is “on fire” to track down the murderers; the story, as of now, does not have her also violated as poor little Samantha … Producer Frank Marshall is returning from France rooting for Lance Armstrong — whose life story would make a remarkable film. He is on his way to winning his fourth consecutive Tour de France — barring any illness or injury, natch. But the idea of a biopic on Armstrong is not new — and has been planned by Bud Greenspan and Edward R. Pressman since 1999, when they acquired rights to his amazing story. Armstrong recovered from testicular cancer after treatment in 1998 that also involved his lungs and brain — he had been given a 30% chance of survival. But, Pressman tells me, Armstrong decided at that time he did not want to do the film — which was slated for TNT — and not as a docu. Pressman notes, “The story has gotten better and better.” And they still hope to make the film. Frank Marshall, it is to be reminded, is also involved in readying another sports story — “Seabiscuit” — partnered with Kathleen Kennedy. Gary Ross will direct his screenplay. And they are jockeying for time to start in early October, hoping Tobey Maguire can slip out of his “Spider-Man II” threads and into the silks as “Seabiscuit’s” jockey.

HOW WILL TELEVISION FIT into the 9/11 commemoration? With news that NBC will tape a “Concert for America” hosted by Tom Brokaw, featuring First Lady Laura Bush and many top musical names mentioned, I asked several top producers of specials their thoughts on appropriate celeb remembrance and recognition. Gary Smith noted, “There are many ways to pay tribute. I wouldn’t quarrel with a meaningful, emotional program — in great taste.” He reminds of the magnificent all-star show Joel Gallen produced — “America: A Tribute to Heroes” — on 200 networks worldwide Sept. 21. It raised more than $250 million and attracted an audience of 59.3 million viewers, and is nominated for six Emmys. Don Mischer, who is readying events with the city of New York, cautions, “Any kind of an entertainment show does not feel right.” George Schlatter agrees this day “should not be an excuse to do a variety show.” And Walter C. Miller said, “There’s no way that day should be tarnished. I hope stars won’t be used for a variety show. I wouldn’t want to see that kind of a vehicle. We must keep the sanctity of that day and not look for a ratings boost. I’m totally out of it.”

“NEVER” — SAYS BUDDY HACKETT about returning to play clubs. But he’s happily doing a Tuesdays-only seg — on Craig Kilborn’s “Late, Late Show” on CBS for the summer. Howcum? “Clubs — that’s work,” he admits. He also credits the show with making him welcome when he was doing p.a.’s for his TV’er “Action.” David Letterman invited him to wing to N.Y. for his show, but he chose to remain here and do Kilborn when they offered to let him do his seg at home, or in a restaurant or wherever he wanted. But he chose the studio. “I need the excitement of coming out into an audience. I need to be on fire.” He has also been given the OK to use his usual colorful language, with the promise he would be bleeped. So now that he’s back working, he reminds, “I’m an actor. I want to do drama.” Stay tuned … HBO’s “Pancho Villa” has a start date in Mexico in mid-October with a budget of more than $20 million. Bruce Beresford directs the Antonio Banderas starrer, produced and written by Larry Gelbart. And as you might imagine, the highly dramatic story will also boast mucho comedy. As the film winds between Hollywood and Mexico, studio scenes feature Raoul Walsh acting as Villa and, in the real battle scenes, Pancho Villa himself and a thousand troops. Also included, Hollywood and American history as William Randolph Hearst and William Doheny urged the U.S. to invade Mexico.

“BAYWATCH’S” BEAUTIFUL ANGELICA BRIDGES weds Montreal Canadiens’ star defenseman Sheldon Souray Aug. 10 poolside at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. Bridges stars in “Son of the Beach” on the FX web … Sid Caesar will be toasted on his 80th birthday at the BevHills Friars’ Club where he’s entertained countless confreres on their happy occasions … Philip Baker Hall and Jeanne Tripplehorn are the latest duo to play “The Guys” at the Actors Gang in Hollywood, Aug. 6-23. “The Guys,” by Anne Nelson, is the dialogue between a fire captain who lost eight of his men on 9/11, with an editor who helps him prepare their eulogies. Helen Hunt plays through Sunday, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins play Tuesday to Thursday … Jonathan Taylor is another Daily Variety alumnus to join the L.A. Times. He’s their new TV editor … David Gordon is back on the L.A. publishing scene with his company’s G Media Network launching Luxury magazine in the fall. Greg Guss is editor … Among the warnings from Steven Soderbergh with the scripts of “Full Frontal” delivered to his cast (no trailers, no limos, no craft services, etc.): “You will have fun whether you want to or not.” P.S. They also told me that they did. In case you wondered about the $2 million budget, all cast members were paid scale ($650 a day) … And Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein’s played by thesp Jeff Garlin.

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