Chabat gets laughs, uses leverage

French star stays busy with many projects

In the U.S., French star Alain Chabat may be best-known as the haughty Napoleon Bonaparte in “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” but in Gaul he’s the king of comedy.

After nearly three decades in the entertainment biz, Chabat still ranks as one of France’s most popular actors and directors, able to turn the most unlikely, off-the-field concepts into B.O. gold. Plus, he has the leverage to convince France’s biggest production houses to follow him on daring bigger-budget projects.

For his latest, Chabat got Gallic powerhouse Pathe to sign on to “Houba: The Marsupilami and the Orchid of Chicxulub,” a $61 million adventure-comedy that Chabat is directing, starring in and producing via his shingle Chez Wam. Pathe will introduce the pic to buyers at the AFM.

Based on Andre Franquin’s characters, “Houba” stars the Marsupilami, a mischievous little animal living in the jungle of Palombia, along with a horde of well-known French thesps, including Jamel Debbouze, Lambert Wilson and Julie Delpy.

Top French vfx and toon shingle BUF, which worked on Luc Besson’s “Arthur,” has been tapped to create the Marsupilami character in 3D CGI.

“We acquired the rights to Franquin’s book six or seven years ago, and it took us that long to come up with the right script,” says Chabat, adding that he’s always been a fan of all sorts of graphic novels.

Chabat previously helmed another comicbook-based feature, the $69 million “Asterix and Obelix Meet Cleopatra,” adapted from Rene Goscinny’s graphic novel. Distribbed by Pathe, pic nabbed ?110 million ($153 million) in 2002, making it the third highest-grossing French film ever.

“Houba” is co-written by American scribe Jeremy Doner, who’s writing the remake of “Heartbreaker” for Working Title.

“The film will be in French, but Jeremy Doner, with whom I wrote the script, helped me to give the film an Anglo-Saxon edge and a definite international flare,” explains Chabat.

Chabat also has thrived as a producer. “Babies,” a documentary he produced via Chez Wam, was acquired for U.S. distribution by Focus. Stateside it took $6.1 million, a healthy amount not only for a doc but also a French film.

And his L.A.-based outfit, Wam Films, has a slew of high-profile pics in development and production.

One of them, “I Do,” is a remake of the hit French romantic comedy “Prete moi ta main,” which Chabat produced and starred in along with Charlotte Gainsbourg. Project is set up at New Regency, and StudioCanal is involved in the development.

Other pics on Chabat’s producing slate include DreamWorks laffer “A Thousands Words,” starring Eddie Murphy.

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