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Cox leaves ‘Las Vegas’

NEW YORK — Alex Cox has dropped out as director of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” the Rhino Films adaptation of the Hunter Thompson travelogue, which will star Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. Terry Gilliam is mulling an offer to replace Cox as director of the film.

The split between Rhino Films and Cox (“Sid and Nancy”) was chalked up to “creative differences,” and Rhino was charging hard toward locking Gilliam to keep the film on course for a May 20 start date. Cox signed on to direct the film last year (Daily Variety, Nov. 25) after adapting the famed Thompson book with Tod Davies for Rhino Films, an offshoot of Rhino Records.

The script was good enough to land Depp to play gonzo journalist Thompson and Del Toro (“The Usual Suspects”) to play his lawyer, with whom Thompson takes a drug-fueled road trip to cover a motorcycle race in Las Vegas. Many stars who are either friends of Thompson or fans of the book have offered to do cameos, sources said. None can be locked in until a start date is solidified.

The Cox fallout is the latest chapter in the long saga to bring Thompson’s 25-year-old book to the screen. Martin Scorsese wanted to direct Jack Nicholson in 1975. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd tried to do it. Larry McMurtry tried to adapt it for Hal Ashby. Now, Rhino Films hopes that Gilliam will agree and keep the film on its current course.

Rhino originally hoped to get the film into production in January, and if Gilliam or another director uses the existing script, the May 20 start date is still possible. If the film start is pushed much beyond that, it will run into Vegas’ summer season, which would guarantee an unbearably hot shoot. Much of the road trip pic occurs in a convertible traveling through the desert, which will not be pleasant in 110 degree days.

Rhino Films president of production Stephen Nemeth, who is producing the film with Laila Nabulsi, would not comment on the parting of ways with Cox. Cox’s United Talent Agency agent David Kanter would only confirm that “Alex isn’t going to direct the picture at this point, but I understand they’re contemplating using Alex and Tod Davies’ script, and that is all we know right now.”

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