Studio on hunt for scribe, courts Sheen for 'Money' follow-up

Chris Tucker, the highest-paid actor who never works, is poised for back-to-back sequel duty.

At Tucker’s behest, New Line has begun to develop “Money Talks 2,” the sequel to the action comedy that helped make Tucker a star. Money will do the talking if Tucker does that film and “Rush Hour 3:” his sequel price is $20 million against 20% of gross for each film.

The studio is looking to hire a writer and has already begun courting Charlie Sheen to return as Tucker’s co-star. Brett Ratner, who directed the original 1997 “Money Talks” before twice re-teaming with Tucker on the “Rush Hour” films, might direct the “Money Talks” sequel. The pic will be steered by Tucker and Rat Entertainment’s Ratner and Jay Stern.

The $20 million against 20% quote was Tucker’s payday for “Rush Hour 2,” a deal that marked the largest jump in salary in movie history. Tucker was paid less than $2 million for the first “Rush Hour.” He and Jackie Chan proved worthy of their big raises: the sequel’s $330 million worldwide business surpassed the original’s worldwide gross of $250 million, said Arthur Sarkissian, who’s producing “Rush Hour 3″ with Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman and Jay Stern.

Long absence

The “Money Talks” development is surprising, not because of the sequelization of a modest hit, but rather because it has been impossible to get Tucker to do anything but “Rush Hour” films. Despite his obvious talents in comedy and the dramatic flair he showed in “Dead Presidents,” Tucker hasn’t acted in three years, since “Rush Hour 2″ was released in 2001.

Re-matching Tucker and Chan as culture-clashing cops in “Rush Hour 3″ has proved difficult because of a budget well north of $100 million. The studio is about to hire for rewrite duty John Rogers, whose recent scripting assignments have included “Catwoman” and “The Core.” His mandate is to set the pic in a single location and hopefully bring the budget down to an acceptable level.

Ratner, who just finished the New Line pic “After the Sunset” with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek, had expected to do “Rush Hour 3″ as his next movie, with a fall start eyed. The budget complexities also have him eyeing “Josiah’s Canon” at Fox.

New Line prexy Toby Emmerich confirmed the studio was getting started on “Money Talks 2″ and said New Line sparked to the prospect of getting Tucker in back-to-back films.

“We’ve got an idea from Chris, and since he’d like to do both films, we would like to make them happen,” Emmerich said.

The original “Money Talks” was a launching point for both Tucker and Ratner, though that could hardly have been predicted when the latter replaced Steve Chase as director just weeks before principal photography began. The film, which cast Tucker in the role of a scam artist named Franklin Hatchett, put his hyperkinetic comic ability on full display.

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