Moritz, Adler in negotiations to produce

After two aborted takeoffs, “Superman” is moving toward a late 2004 production start, reflecting Warner Bros.’ fierce appetite for additional tentpoles.

The studio is negotiating with Neal Moritz and Gilbert Adler to produce the film.

The picture has not been greenlit, nor is McG set to direct, although he did test six actors last week for the role. It has not been decided which thesp will be fitted for spandex and sent to Australia, where location scouting is about to begin.

It’s surprising that WB is courting Moritz, who will have to free himself from his recently inked deal with Sony.

Negotiations are a sign that WB is serious about expediting production of a once-profitable franchise that faltered in its first revival attempt with Nicolas Cage and director Tim Burton, and again when “Rush Hour” director Brett Ratner tried to get it off the ground last year.

A maker of logistically complex action films such as “The Fast and the Furious,” “XXX” and “S.W.A.T.,” Moritz just wrapped production at Australia’s Fox Studios on “Stealth,” a Rob Cohen-directed actioner for Columbia.

Jon Peters, a co-producer of the original “Batman” film series who has been shepherding the Superman revival going back to the Burton-Cage incarnation of 1998, officially will remain involved as a producer but is not likely to be a fixture. During Ratner’s time with the film, he and Peters are said to have clashed on creative issues.

Moritz’s negotiations have been ticklish. Sony Pictures Entertainment staked him and his Original Films banner to a five-year renewal deal late last year, and sources said Col execs were aghast that he wanted to work for a rival studio on a time-consuming tentpole. Those hurdles appear to have been cleared.

Adler is an easier addition, as he has become a go-to hands-on producer for Warners on pics like “Constantine,” “Starsky & Hutch” and “Ghost Ship.”

The current J.J. Abrams-scripted version of “Superman” has been somewhat streamlined to a budget that hovers around $200 million. That’s deemed an acceptable number for a blue-chip franchise with high sequel and ancillary revenue potential, and it is also more palatable than the $225 million-$250 million pricetag the studio struggled with last year.

The film still revolves around Superman’s battle with Lex Luthor and a mysterious killer from Krypton who has come to hunt down the Man of Steel.

Warner Bros. Entertainment chairman-CEO Alan Horn and production prexy Jeff Robinov are expected to decide soon on whether any of McG’s candidates will get the starring role.

When Ratner was at the helm, the studio initially courted Josh Hartnett and Jude Law, only to find them reluctant to commit to three-picture deals although they could have made $100 million if the series took off.

It now appears Warners is intent on making a star rather than paying for one. Among candidates said to have tested for McG last week are Jason Behr (“Roswell”), Henry Cavill (“The Count of Monte Cristo”), Jared Padalecki (“New York Minute”) and Michael Cassidy. It is not a certainty one of them will be chosen; Ratner’s final choice, soap star Matt Bomer, did not get a thumbs-up from the studio, and Ratner withdrew from the film shortly thereafter.

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