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Next ‘Shorty’ Rock-solid

Lion continues cast search for Leonard adaptation

MGM will begin production in January on “Be Cool,” the “Get Shorty” followup that F. Gary Gray will direct, with John Travolta reprising his role as Chili Palmer.

With Travolta in final negotiations, the studio has begun seeking cast around him, and first up is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is being courted to play a bodyguard-singer who develops an uneasy alliance with Palmer. Studio is slotting the film for a holiday 2004 release.

The film is based on an Elmore Leonard novel hatched after then-MGM head Frank Mancuso asked the author at the “Get Shorty” premiere if he had a sequel idea.

“Be Cool” moves the loan shark-turned film producer Palmer away from the feature film business and into the music industry. In short order, Chili witnesses the murder of his music industry friend by the mob, he agrees to manage an up-and-coming singer, and he’s threatened by her mob-connected manager.

Enter the Rock. He’s being courted to play the manager’s bodyguard, a big guy who wants to be a singer and who happens to be gay. After beating him up in their first encounter, Palmer tries to help the tough guy become a film star.

Closing deals

WMA was working quickly to close deals for Travolta and Gray, the latter of whom will tap his musicvideo background to secure established music talent for the film. The Barry Sonnenfeld-directed “Get Shorty” used feature cameos to give the pic an air of reality. UTA-repped Rock just toplined “The Rundown” and the MGM remake “Walking Tall,” and he’d squeeze in “Be Cool” before starring for Universal in “Spy Hunter” in May.

A deal is in place for Jersey Films to return, as Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher will produce with author Leonard and Michael Siegel. MGM’s Michael Nathanson and Elizabeth Cantillon are shepherding the pic. The script by Peter Steinfeld includes onscreen reprisals for James Gandolfini’s stuntman character and DeVito’s Martin Weir character, though is is unclear whether either will be back.

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