Penny Marshall is near a commitment to direct the Columbia comic drama “Riding In Cars With Boys,” and the studio is talking with Drew Barrymore for the starring role.

The film marks a return to Columbia for Marshall, who made “A League of Their Own” and “Awakenings” there, and it also marks a reteam for the director with “Big” producer James L. Brooks, who’ll produce the new film with Laurence Mark, Sara Colleton and Richard Sakai.

Based on a book by Beverly D’Onofrio, “Riding in Cars With Boys” focuses on the lifelong relationship between a mother and the son she gave birth to at the age of 15 in 1968. She was a single mother with dreams of becoming a writer when she had the child, and went through a failed marriage with his drug-addicted father. Despite the somewhat bleak-sounding plot, the script by Morgan Upton Ward (“Pyromaniac’s Love Story”) has comic moments as well.

If the talks work out with Barrymore, it will provide the actress with her most serious role yet. Barrymore, who starred in and produced with Flower Films partner Nancy Juvonen the comedy “Never Been Kissed,” is producing and starring with Cameron Diaz in an updated “Charlie’s Angels” for Columbia. Flower Films is producing that film with Leonard Goldberg. It’s unclear which film would go before the cameras first. Marshall is managed by AMG, Barrymore by ICM.

AD WHIZ’S IDEA HITS WALL: The one-sheet for the June 25 Adam Sandler comedy “Big Daddy,” which depicts the back of a pint-sized kid relieving himself on a wall, is in danger of being flushed from the Gotham subway systems and Santa Monica’s public beaches. The authorities that control the advertising from both venues have asked the studio to use other one-sheets, Dish hears, for fear of encouraging or condoning such behavior. In those venues, public urination is no laughing matter to the people who maintain the premises.

Director Dennis Dugan hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be another example of Hollywood imagery being blamed for bad manners. “I just think it’s a funny poster, and I don’t think people are suddenly going to say, ‘Gee, why don’t I go pee on a wall?’ ” Dugan said. “If you’re prone to such a thing, you’ll probably do it anyway.”

Dugan’s barely had time for a bathroom break himself, doing post on the comedy while shooting for producer Neal Moritz the series pilot “Shasta McNasty” with Jake Busey for Col/TriStar and UPN.

“Big Daddy” is about a guy resisting adulthood who takes in a stray kid. “The movie’s got the humor that Adam Sandler fans expect, but it’s also the story of a kid who takes this guy by the hand and leads him to adulthood.” Columbia, meanwhile, will provide replacement one-sheets featuring the film’s title with Sandler’s name where requested. Even so, the studio has managed to get the one-sheets into a lot of restrooms, where they are less likely to promote unauthorized leaking.

ABSTINENCE, THE MOVIE: Screenwriter Rob Perez has turned abstinence into a profit center. Working Title partners Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan have paid low- against mid-six figures and attached Michael Lehmann to direct a comedy based on Perez’s 18-page treatment “Forty Days and Forty Nights.” It’s a diary of one man’s attempt to stay celibate during Lent, the pre-Easter period when Catholics traditionally abstain from something, though usually something less traumatic, like chocolate or cigars.

Lehmann’s films include “Heathers” and “The Truth About Cats and Dogs.” Michael London will produce.

Perez also is developing “Instant Karma” with London and director David Steinberg. It’s a comedy about how a superficial Hollywood guy decides to get religion and auditions the various faiths to choose the right one.

The scribe is a former intern on “The Larry Sanders Show” who, before getting to turn in a script he wrote for an episode, got canned for, he felt, making too much eye contact with the girlfriend of the show’s star, Garry Shandling. No telling whether that trauma drove him to the dry stint, but “Forty Days” is said to be partly autobiographical. The teetotaler uses abstinence to heal himself when the girl he loves runs off with a William Morris agent. In the process, he meets the real girl of his dreams and his vow is sorely tested. Perez’s deal was consummated by Marti Blumenthal of Writers & Artists.

DISHINGS: Last time Irish Screen pumped money into an unfinished indie film, it was the John Madden-directed “Mrs. Brown,” a pic that got two Oscar noms for Miramax. Irish Screen’s about to unveil its next effort in that regard, with Redeemable Features looking to broker a domestic deal for “Human Traffic,” a film about the rave club scene in London directed by first-timer Justin Kerrigan. The film will be seen for the first time Thursday at Lincoln Center, where Redeemable screens it for domestic buyers … The third time might be the charm for the Robert Ferrigno novel “The Horse Latitudes,” the bestselling novel optioned by TriStar in 1990 for a pic to star Robert De Niro, only to be dropped and picked up by producer Larry Gordon and Universal. It’s been plucked from turnaround by producer Sean Furst, who just finished his first feature, “Blue Ridge Fall,” and will try to put the novel into production. It’s about an ex-drug dealer whose wife is missing. He becomes the prime suspect when her boyfriend is found gutted.