'Usual Suspects' pair gets OK

United Artists toppers Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner have greenlit their second film, an original thriller that Bryan Singer will direct as his next feature.

The untitled film re-teams Singer with “The Usual Suspects” screenwriter Chris McQuarrie.

Singer and McQuarrie will produce. The drama is the duo’s first original collaboration since “The Usual Suspects.”

Set in WWII, the project is similar to “Suspects” in that it is a multi-character ensemble piece.

Singer and McQuarrie took the project directly to Wagner and Cruise, who agreed to finance it almost immediately.

The film will delay Warner Bros.’ hope of mounting a sequel to “Superman Returns” in the near future. Singer’s Bad Hat Harry banner has an overall deal at WB, where he is developing several films that include that sequel and the Harvey Milk biopic “The Mayor of Castro Street.” He also is directing “Football Wives,” a series pilot for ABC and ABC TV Studio. The new project begins production this summer.

Cruise and Wagner resuscitated the UA label in November. They are in production on the Robert Redford-directed drama “Lions for Lambs,” which stars Redford, Cruise and Meryl Streep. The film will be released Nov. 9 by MGM.

“Bryan is one of the great filmmakers working today and Chris is an exceptional writer, and for Tom and me, this was an exciting opportunity for our second picture,” Wagner said.

Compared with recent tentpoles “Superman Returns” and the first two “X-Men” pics, Singer’s latest project carries a moderate pricetag.

“This was something Chris showed me late last year, and we worked on it quietly during the holidays,” Singer told Daily Variety. “We brought it to UA and it was nice one-stop shopping. We decided it was the right place to make this movie, as opposed to shopping it around. It’s a period in history that has always fascinated me, and we found a very interesting story that materialized into a pretty wonderful script.”

UA, which is in the process of securing capitalization from Merrill Lynch upward of $400 million, plans to make four to six films per year but has been selective. The company has acquired several development projects, including the Stanley Alpert book “The Birthday Party.”

Singer’s repped by WMA, McQuarrie by Ken Kamins.

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