Allen may be in ‘Big Trouble’; Smith’s Ali

NEW YORK — Tim Allen is in talks to topline “Big Trouble,” the Barry Sonnenfeld-directed comedy for Disney based on the novel by humor columnist Dave Barry.

Allen would do the film in late summer after completing “Cletis Tout,” the Chris Ver Wiel-directed comedy for Seven Arts Pictures which costars Christian Slater and begins shooting in June. “Big Trouble” begins shooting in August.

The Disney comedy is an ensemble revolving around how a bomb in a suitcase changes the lives of a divorced dad, an unhappy housewife, a couple of teens, hitmen, street thugs and some FBI men.

The studio is casting in earnest, with Tom Sizemore looming as a likely participant, though a widely rumored prospect that Rene Russo would play female lead is now looking shaky. Tom Jacobson, Sonnenfeld and Barry Josephson produce, with Jim Wedaa exec producing.

Since wrapping his long series run on “Home Improvement,” Allen most recently starred in the surprise ensemble comedy hit “Galaxy Quest.”

A deal would return him to the Disney fold where he starred in “The Santa Clause” and “Jungle 2 Jungle,” and voiced Buzz Lightyear in “Toy Story” and its sequel. Allen’s repped by William Morris and attorney Dennis Ardi and is managed by Messina/Baker.

WILL SMITH HAS FINALLY SIGNED on the dotted line to star for director Michael Mann in the Columbia Pictures biopic of Muhammad Ali, to be produced by Jon Peters. Smith will be paid $20 million against 20% of gross to play the Greatest. While he’s prepping to promote the Robert Redford-directed “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” in which he starred with Matt Damon (pic opens Aug. 4), Smith has already begun training in earnest to portray the charismatic boxer.

While the Ali film became one of the highest profile projects in Hollywood when Mann agreed to helm, Smith took some time to sign, leading to talk that he’d be inking a two-picture deal under which he’d put the Ray Bans back on for “Men in Black 2,” a film that began showing signs of life last summer when Columbia hired “Galaxy Quest” scribe Robert Gordon to script a concept hatched by producer Amblin (Daily Variety, July 20, 1999).

The studio commissioned the script because there was no good reason not to have a sequel of its highest grossing pic — $588 million worldwide — even though there were appreciable problems with gross participation that could conceivably have amounted to 80%, a fiscally impossible scenario since most studios will put the brakes on a project if the gross participation stretches into the high 20s.

Sources close to Smith deny he’s made an “MiB2” deal, though they acknowledge the talks are moving, and are expected to include Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld, who’ll next helm “Big Trouble” at Disney.

Smith has several possible projects at Universal, including the Tom Shadyac-directed “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”; the Jonathan Demme-directed remake of “Charade”; the romantic pic “Anything for You,” in which he might star with Whitney Houston; or even “K-Pac,” a pic the CAA-repped Smith’s been hot on for some time.

WICK’S PICS: Producer Doug Wick scored the neat trick last week of having his name on the top grossing pic in “Gladiator” as well as the top selling video, “Stuart Little.” Each film was considered a high creative risk right through production, and in an age in which studios are so fearful of taking risks, Wick said both Columbia and DreamWorks score points for showing guts.

Wick’s now prepping another summer pic, the equally risky Paul Verhoeven-directed visual spectacular “The Hollow Man.” Then he’s got a seemingly safer package in the Brad Pitt/Robert Redford starrer “Spy Game” at Beacon for director Mike Van Diem.

Aside from Ridley Scott’s reception to collaboration, Wick said the biggest surprise is the extent to which “Gladiator” is luring women; that could keep “Gladiator” formidable in the arena for weeks to come.

NO SHORT CUMMING: After bonding over a revival of “Cabaret,” Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh will next join forces on an unusual film collaboration at Fine Line, where they will co-direct “The Anniversary Party,” based on a script they wrote together. The duo will play the starring roles.

“Jennifer made a film and told me how quick it was to work on digital video, so we made up a story, pitched it and then wrote a screenplay,” Cumming said. “It just grew into a monster.” They play an estranged couple who reunite and hold a sixth anniversary party to commemorate the event. The tensions involving friendships and professional relationships at the party threaten to pry the couple apart once more.

Cumming, who just wrapped “Spy Kids” with Antonio Banderas, gets behind the camera after completing the Alan Rudolph-directed “Investigating Sex” with Nick Nolte and Neve Campbell. He’s also booked for “Josie and the Pussycats” at Universal after doing “Viva Rock Vegas.” Cumming, who did a small screen turn in ABC’s “Annie,” has also signed to co-exec produce with Alan Heinberg (“Sex and the City” and “Party of Five”) and star in a series for HBO about celebrity in America that will be shot docu style. Cumming also returns to Broadway in January alongside Julianne Moore in “Design for a Living.” He’s repped by ICM’s Tracy Brennan and Andy Cohen.

COSTLY STRINGS: In this age of falling tech stocks, the best blue chip investment in the world may be a guitar once owned by Eric Clapton. Clapton sold his famous “Brownie” instrument for $550,000 recently, and a potentially even higher amount is expected when rocker Todd Rundgren auctions off a guitar he owns, one which Clapton used to record every song he did with Cream. Rundgren paid $500 in 1971 for the psychedelic Gibson Les Paul SG, nicknamed “the Fool” because it was painted by artists financed by the Beatles under that company name. The guitar was also used on the George Harrison song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and it’s being auctioned by Rundgren via Sotheby’s Online May 22-June 5. The expectation is that it might fetch even more than the other Clapton instrument. Rundgren’s manager, Eric Gardner, is liquidating his collection of music memorabilia through Sotheby’s London on May 26. That collectible haul includes original sheet music handwritten by Mozart, Brahms and Strauss, as well as an invoice for 75 shillings written and submitted by Beethoven for hand copying his opus 132 and opus 134. Shortly after, Gardner will auction other lit originals June 26 at Sotheby’s NY, where the items include a page from Isaac Newton’s notebook on which he calculated the laws of motion and letters from the likes of Mark Twain, Napoleon, Dickens and Voltaire. The collection’s valued at $1.5 million, a number that would be higher if any of those cats had been any good on the electric guitar.

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