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CINEFILE; Animal stars on comeback trail

What this country needs is a new “Lassie” movie. And who better to carry on the tradition than producer Lorne Michaels?

“Saturday Night Live’s” Michaels is at Paramount, where he’s got such vintage pieces of Americana as “The Coneheads” and “Wayne’s World II” in production. Will his collie get the same treatment and respect accorded “SNL” guest hosts?

“It will be warm,” said Michaels, sidestepping the question about humorous intent.

It was impossible to know whether his claim — that the new Lassie is a descendant of the original — was based in fact. What is known is that the story centers on a smart, charming dog with the intelligence of your average Mensa member.

The script is being written by Matthew Jacobs, and Richard Pearce will direct sometime in late summer. Apart from Michaels, the creative elements suggest this is a serious undertaking.

IN A TOWN NOTED for its sensitivities, here’s a tale that goes beyond all previously known limits.

The producers of a modest little indie called “Gordy, the Pig” were a tad surprised when they received a call on the eve of production from a rep of a music industry icon. No less than Berry Gordy Jr., the auteur of “Mahogany” and the man behind Motown, was inquiring about their effort.

In the nicest possible way, the rep wanted to know whether the yarn had even the slightest bit to do with Mr. Motown. Perhaps he was recalling the scuffle between John Fogerty and Saul Zaentz over a little musical ditty, “Zanz Kan’t Danz,” which prompted the latter to drag the former into court, citing character defamation.

Well, “Gordy” is about a boy and his pure-bred Yorkshire piglet (actually played by 24 different swine) and how the hog wins his way into the hearts of the rich and powerful. It’s a family comedy, which its producer Sybil Robson describes as “clean and hilarious.” Definitely not the stuff of expose or metaphor, even if the title character can “communicate.”

Hmmmmm, wondered the mouthpiece, then there are just two questions to be asked.

First, he wanted to know the color of the title character. A sigh of relief was heard when the producers said “pink.”

Finally, he asked, does the character speak with a Detroit accent?

AND TO COMPLETE TODAY’S menagerie, actress Diane Keaton will direct “Pet People” for Amblin in the fall.

The fantasy involves a woman in trouble whose dead animals are reincarnated as humans and come back to help her out of her pickle. She’s looking at mimes, dancers, movement experts and the like to come up with an unusual cast of critters.

SEVERAL YEARS BACK, William Morris agent Chris Godsick was tipped by a friend to catch a film called “The Killer.” He was, excuse the expression, blown away by the ballet of violence in the Hong Kong thriller directed by John Woo. So, he tracked down the filmmaker and as luck would have it, Woo happened to be passing through L.A. with his producer Terence Chang.

Well, faster than you can say moo goo gai pan, Woo and Chang had U.S. representation. This summer the relocated duo will be on screen with their first American effort, “Hard Target,” a thriller starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

But the story doesn’t stop there. Godsick started to watch and appreciate Chinese flicks. Soon, with the aid of his new clients, he signed up the top Hong Kong star, Chow Yun-Fat. Then he inked director Chen Kaige and writer Lilian Lee , who were working on something called “Farewell to My Concubine.” Yes, the same pic that recently won top prize at Cannes.

No wonder Godsick considers the Far East the next hotbed for new movie talent. And just to show his sincerity, he’s been taking lessons in the Mandarin language. So, why not Cantonese?

“They’re both tonal languages,” the agent said, “but Cantonese is virtually impossible for a Gwai-lo (the Chinese term for an Anglo) because it has nine inflections and it’s very easy to say something incorrectly.”

So, how goes the battle?

“Slowly. Right now I eat it better than I speak it.”

THIS WILL DRIVE YOU IN-ZANE: Director Kevin Jarre waged quite a battle for his significant other, actress Lisa Zane, to play Wyatt Earp’s girlfriend in Cinergi’s “Tombstone.” Well, he lost when Disney preferred Dana Delany for the part. But Zane got a consolation prize with the part of Doc Holliday’s gal in the same film.

All went well until Jarre got his R.I.P. notice on the film and headed south as George Cosmatos rode into town and behind the lens. Zane was not far behind, replaced by Joanna Pacula.

Another casualty on the picture, for far different reasons, was Robert Mitchum playing ol’ man Clanton. Mitchum had a back injury flare up after a few hours on horseback. He’s irreplaceable, so the Clanton character has been written out of the oater.

DANA DELANY’S CAREER has suddenly gotten hot in more ways than one.

She’ll follow “Tombstone” with Savoy’s steamy, tentatively titled “Exit to Eden.” The erotic thriller, to be directed by Garry Marshall in August, takes place in an X-rated private club. Kinda like “Sliver” under glass.

Just how much of a hot potato is it?

Well, the casting advisory has it both ways. It reads: “It is not the intention of this project to display male or female frontal nudity, whether in crowd scenes or intimate scenes.” It goes on to add that costumes will be “inventive and tasteful. Topless nudity may be required in certain scenes, but it will be used selectively, and in an appropriate manner.”