Actor to star in and co-produce action comedy

Sony is making it clear it wants to be in the Kevin James business, with Columbia Pictures wrapping up a pact to move forward with “Here Comes the Boom,” an action comedy that the thesp will star in and produce with comedy collaborator Adam Sandler and producer Todd Garner.

Salma Hayek is said to be circling the film’s female lead. Sandler will not star in “Boom,” but will produce through his Happy Madison shingle.

Sony considers James a homegrown star, with its TV division having produced “King of Queens.” The studio also cast him in two of his first bigscreen pics, “50 First Dates” and “Hitch.”

The film, which could start lensing as early as January, will be the third high-profile comedy project to star James at Columbia after “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” surprised the biz when it broke out and earned $146 million early last year. He also stars in this summer’s “Grown Ups,” opposite Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade, and “The Zookeeper” for the studio.

“Zookeeper” was originally to be distribbed by MGM, but Sony, which was also a co-financier on the film, agreed to take over and put the film on its release schedule after the Lion was put up for sale again. Strong test screening results recently prompted Sony to move the pic this week from October to a prime summer berth of July 8, 2011. Garner, a former partner at Revolution Studios, has a number of high-profile projects ready to unspool this summer, including Fox’s “Knight and Day,” with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, and Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” He will produce the Sandler comedy “Jack and Jill,” also for Sony.

Plot details for “Boom” are being kept under wraps, but James penned the script with Rock Reuben, who wrote “Zookeeper” and scripted and exec produced episodes of the CBS sitcom “The King of Queens” that starred James.

James will produce “Boom” through his Hey Eddie banner, while Garner will shepherd through Broken Road. Jeff Sussman will serve as an executive producer on the project.

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