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‘Dave’ delivers message

Escalating a mandate to make mainstream movies with a message, “Dave” co-producer Lauren Shuler-Donner has at least four more features in development that will address everything from “Dirty Water” to “A Boy Who Eats Rocks.”

Shuler-Donner said she and husband/partner Richard Donner are committed activists who use their production company to inject messages into mainstream movies.

Consciousness-raising might seem odd coming from the co-producers of the “Lethal Weapon” series and Brat Pack pic “St. Elmo’s Fire.” However, completed and upcoming projects increasingly reveal their social attitudes.

Consider “Dave,” a comedy where Kevin Kline plays an everyday hero who accidentally winds up as president, and manages to halt budget cuts to the homeless.

Warner Bros. opens “Dave” Friday. Pic is a Donner/Shuler-Donner production in association with director Ivan Reitman’s Northern Lights Entertainment.

However, it’s WB’s July release of “Free Willy” that really voices the duo’s political mandate.

“Willy” is a family film about a little boy who orchestrates the freeing of a whale from captivity. Shuler-Donner hopes that pic will raise awareness about “whale murders in Norway,” a country that defies an international ban on whaling.

“Neither Dick nor I like animals in captivity, and right now the biggest fight is in Norway,” she said. Final cut of the pic will have a toll-free telephone number before the closing credits promoting save-the-whale groups such as Sea Shepherd.

Shuler-Donner said they started slipping in messages as early as “Lethal Weapon II.”

“We spoke out against dolphins getting caught in tuna nets,” she said.

Other pix in their eco development boot camp include “Dirty Water,” about an anti-hero who tries to clean up Boston harbor. Paul Mones is currently rewriting Ken Friedman’s original script, based on Neil Stevenson’s novel “Zodiac.”

Shuler-Donner said the tale “has a ’60s sensibility and needs a ’90s sensibility” to get the message across without lecturing. Pic will likely go in the fall, “when the script is just right.” Distrib is WB, where the company has its 4-year-old first-look deal (Daily Variety, Feb. 15, 1989).

“Stand & Deliver” helmer Ramon Menendez is now inked to direct “A Boy Who Eats Rocks,” about a kid who lives in a group home and meets a boy from the center of the earth who teaches him to love and be loved. Company prez Richard Solomon will produce and the Donner duo will exec produce pic for a Paramount release.

Shuler-Donner said Bob Comfort is in his third draft of “Friendly Voices,” about a man who hears mysterious voices, for Warner Bros.

The company’s next production will be either “Friendly Voices” or “Love in the Attic,” which is being rewritten by Malia Scotch Marmo for Geena Davis. Columbia will distribute.

Based on a true story, Davis will star as 1920s housewife married to an apron manufacturer. She falls in love with a sewing machine repairman and hides him in the attic until hubbie is out of the house.

Alfonso Cuaron will direct. Pic will likely roll soon. “We’ve got a script, a director and the lead,” Shuler-Donner said. “What more do you need?”

She said she is determined to produce “Zapata” (which she’s been nurturing since ’85) about the legendary Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. Touchstone will distribute.

Asked about budgets, the producer was right on cue with a political justification for the company’s average $ 20 million target.

“Personally, I don’t like outrageously expensive movies. On a $ 70 million budget, you could take half that and house the homeless or help abused children, ” Shuler-Donner lamented.

She believes only special-effects movies need big budgets.

“You can make good movies with a message in the $ 20 million range,” she said.

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