Twentieth Century Fox, in high-gear buying mode under new movie chief Peter Chernin, has purchased Jonathan Hensleigh’s spec script “Simon Says” for on-lot producer Robert Lawrence to develop for the big screen.

Sources said the deal, negotiated by Creative Artists Agency’s David Lonner, is valued at $ 500,000 against $ 750,000 with deferred payments up to $ 1 million if the picture becomes a hit.

“Simon Says” is an urban action thriller about an unlikely pair–a white cop and a civilian black activist–who team up to try and stop a mad bomber in Manhattan.

A source familiar with the material described the piece as a contemporary version of “The Defiant Ones.”

CAA wound up negotiating exclusively with Fox, where Hensleigh first pitched the idea for “Simon Says” some time ago during a meeting with Lawrence and the studio’s production prexy, Tom Jacobson. Fox wanted to buy the “Simon” pitch, but Hensleigh said he’d rather write a spec screenplay.

Disney first look

As it turned out, the script first went to Disney, where the writer has a first-look deal. After the studio passed, sources said a lower-level executive there leaked the script to Warner Bros., which was considering the property as a potential next installment of “Lethal Weapon,” but subsequently decided against it.

Reportedly, Jacobson complained to CAA after he heard the script did not go exclusively to Fox despite the studio’s past relationship and earlier meeting with Hensleigh.

A Fox official said the studio “does not discuss projects in development” and neither Lonner nor Lawrence would talk.

In the fast lane

Fox reportedly plans to fast-track the project, with hopes of putting it into production in the next couple of months.

The studio has been aggressive in the marketplace to secure new product in the wake of departed movie chairman Joe Roth. Last week, the studio purchased the highly sought-after movie rights to the New Yorker magazine piece “Crisis in the Hot Zone” for newly signed producer Lynda Obst (Daily Variety, Jan. 25).

Hensleigh, formerly an attorney, first made his mark as a writer about three years ago, when Disney made a deal with him for two scripts and first look at his ideas. Disney hired him to do a rewrite on its Amblin co-production “A Far Off Place,” due out in March.

Rewriting experience

He also did a rewrite on Interscope/Touchstone’s feature “Shiva,” which Chuck Russell is polishing and will direct, and he is currently rewriting “Hickok and Cody” for Silver Pictures at Warner Bros.

Hensleigh also wrote a number of episodes of ABC’s “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” series.