Duo team for Fox comedy

Twentieth Century Fox has set Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise to play sleuths in “The Hardy Men,” a Shawn Levy-directed action comedy based on mystery series “The Hardy Boys.”

At the same time, Stiller and Cruise have been actively discussing a potential team-up in “Tropic Thunder,” the pic Stiller will direct next for DreamWorks. Such an alliance would be ironic, given that the film would be distributed by Paramount, the studio that unceremoniously severed its long-term deal with Cruise after Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone publicly rebuked the star.

Cruise and Stiller have been friends for years — an alliance that grew out of Cruise’s admiration for Stiller’s penchant for doing Cruise impersonations. That started on “The Ben Stiller Show” and was executed most memorably in the 2000 Joel Gallen-directed short “Mission: Improbable,” in which Stiller portrayed a stuntman for Cruise on “Mission: Impossible 2.” Cruise played himself in the spoof.

While “Tropic Thunder” is in the talking stage, Cruise and Stiller are further along on “The Hardy Men,” which Fox hopes to put into production by 2008. Pic marks a reteaming of Levy and Stiller, who are coming off Fox’s holiday blockbuster “Night at the Museum.”

Stiller began batting ideas around recently with Levy and Cruise, and they’ve come up with an ambitious premise that will be executed in the spirit of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”

The plot: The Hardy boys, once wunderkind youth sleuths, have grown up. Long estranged, they’re brought together to solve one last case.

Fox is hunting for a scribe to do a rewrite.

Stiller is producing “The Hardy Men” with his Red Hour partner Stuart Cornfeld, along with Robert Kosberg. Kosberg owned the original “Hardy Boys” rights and brought the project to Red Hour eight years ago.

Since then, the project has languished in development hell through regime changes at Fox and numerous rewrites. (Michael Sargent penned the original script.) Project was originally set up at Fox 2000 but now will be produced at 20th Century Fox.

Stiller next will star in “The Seven Day Itch,” a comedy Peter and Bobby Farrelly are directing for DreamWorks and Paramount.

Cruise is starring Meryl Streep, Michael Pena and Derek Luke in “Lions for Lambs,” the Matthew Michael Carnahan-scripted ensemble drama for United Artists. Robert Redford will be directing. The film is the first UA effort since the shingle was relaunched under the leadership of Cruise and C/W partner Paula Wagner.

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