'Schmucks' comedy nearing the start gate

Jay Roach’s long-gestating comedy “Dinner for Schmucks,” which was one of the most contested projects during last year’s Paramount-DreamWorks divorce, is nearing the start gate.

Spyglass Entertainment will partner with Paramount to greenlight the pic, starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, and finance the majority of its budget.

DreamWorks has committed to take a 33% stake in the film once it secures its own financing.

Carell and Rudd are clearing their schedules to begin shooting the pic in October. And Roach is breathing a sigh of relief as the remake of French comedy “Le Diner des cons” is getting off the ground after a number of setbacks.

Sacha Baron Cohen was originally aboard to star in the pic based on the 1998 film written and directed by Francis Veber. But the fickle comedian last year quietly unattached his name from the project, in which he would have starred as the most pathetic guest to ever grace one man’s weekly dinner gathering.

After last fall’s custody battle over “Dinner for Schmucks,” DreamWorks ultimately held onto the property, though Par retained the right to come in as a financial partner and distributor.

Project was one of 17 for which Paramount retained the right to co-finance and distribute — meaning DreamWorks’ new partner, Disney, will have no role in the film.

DreamWorks principals Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider eventually faced hurdles in coming up with financing for their new solo venture, which left the project in jeopardy even as Carell and Rudd began trying to make their schedules accommodate a potential pairing — not easy given Carell’s commitment to NBC’s “The Office” and Rudd’s interest in doing a James L. Brooks comedy for Sony.

Finally came this week’s twist: Paramount stepped back in, this time with Spyglass in tow. Although it’s unusual for three parties to have a financial stake in a studio movie, it is not unprecedented. Par has a 25% stake in “Watchmen,” with Warner Bros. and Legendary co-financing the other 75%.

Meanwhile, Roach, who hasn’t directed a bigscreen film since 2004’s “Meet the Fockers,” is finally ready to gear up for another feature. He earned an Emmy last year for helming the HBO telepic “Recount,” but his last planned theatrical pic was derailed in 2006 when 20th Century Fox put the Jim Carrey-Ben Stiller starrer “Used Guys” on ice during pre-production due to budget issues.

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