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WB locks Rock for role in ‘Lethal Weapon 4’

NEW YORK — Chris Rock has closed a deal to co-star in “Lethal Weapon 4,” which Warner Bros. plans to have before the cameras in January.

Rock will be paid low seven figures to play a young cop who becomes romantically involved with Danny Glover’s daughter, and he figures to be a centerpiece in a script that’s currently being worked out, sources said. Channing Gibson’s one of four writers working on the script. The hope is to get Joe Pesci and Rene Russo to rejoin Mel Gibson and Glover for the film, which would continue one of WB’s most successful franchises.

The script’s being pulled together under the supervision of director Richard Donner and producer Joel Silver, while Gibson is busy starring for director Brian Helgeland in the Paramount/Warner Bros. co-production “Payback.”

Rock is making plans to film his role while he’s starring for director Kevin Smith in the Miramax film “Dogma” early next year. The deal continues Rock’s roll. After winning two Emmys for an HBO special, Rock’s about to release his Hyperion book “Rock This” and just signed to join “My Best Friend’s Wedding” co-star Rupert Everett in the Fox comedy “High Boys and Low Boys.” Rock is also exec producing a sitcom vehicle for comic D.L. Hubley, which was set up with Twentieth TV and producers Bob Greenblatt and David Janollari.

Rock’s surge as a film star has been achieved under the watch of his ICM agents Eddy Yablans and Andrea Eastman, and management firm 3 Arts Entertainment, which is producing the Hubley series.

WILLIS WOOING: The count has changed on “Ump,” the MGM black comedy that was supposed to go into production during the summer with Sly Stallone playing a by-the-rules hitman for director Frank Oz. Stallone and Oz are now out of the picture. MGM’s trying to get Bruce Willis to the plate, but must find a director whom he and the studio can agree upon, Dish hears. Stallone’s a possibility to be engaged in “Rules of Engagement,” a James Webb-scripted Paramount film that William Friedkin might direct. Willis, now filming “Armageddon,” is repped by William Morris’ Arnold Rifkin.

HORSE WHISPERS ABOUT ‘LAZARUS’: The publishing crowd and film rights buyers have been whipped into a frenzy by a book that’s reminiscent of the Nicholas Evans novel “The Horse Whisperer,” and not just because both originated in Britain. The Robert Mawson novel is called “The Lazarus Child,” but some feel it might as well be called “The Horseless Whisperer,” because there are so many shared emotional beats and similar plot setups.

While the film community is just getting involved, the publishing community is engaging in some serious horseplay with the novel. Bantam established a floor of $1.3 million for just the U.S. book rights, with British rights already bought for about $1 million by Bantam U.K., and six-figure rights deals already secured by British lit agency Christopher Little for Italy, Germany and France. The book could emerge as the biggest international publishing phenomenon since “The Horse Whisperer.” Now that studios have copies, it will take some heavy interest to come near the $3 million CAA’s Bob Bookman got from Touchstone and Robert Redford for “The Horse Whisperer.”

That novel is about a girl who is critically injured riding a horse and whose parents believe her recovery is tied to the mental health of the horse. The creature turns wild because of the accident and the parents turn to the title character to soothe the horse. In “Lazarus,” estranged British parents grieve over their daughter, who’s comatose after being hit by a car. Even worse, her 12-year-old brother is suicidal because he blames himself. Saving her is the key to saving him, and the parents turn to a U.S.-based doctor with revolutionary ways of speaking to coma patients to rouse them from their slumber — a cure involving the brother.

Hey, if the biggest film of the fall, “Titanic,” is Romeo and Juliet on a sinking ship, then why not “The “Horse Whisperer” in a coma ward?

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