Farrellys reup with Fox, lay out slate

Deal enables Conundrum to crank out steadier flow of comedies

NEW YORK — Twentieth Century Fox has kept its comic kingpins in the studio fold for three more years, signing Conundrum Entertainment, the production partnership of Peter and Bobby Farrelly and Bradley Thomas, to a new first-look pact. The deal was sealed right before the June 23 release of the Farrelly-directed “Me, Myself & Irene,” which stars Jim Carrey and Renee Zellweger.

The Conundrum clan has christened their new deal by formalizing the cast of the next Farrelly directing effort “Shallow Hal” — Jack Black and Garry Shandling are poised to join Gwyneth Paltrow — and setting up several new comedies that include an “Irene” spinoff centering on the three oversized black triplet sons of the Carrey character, a cop who suffers from split-personality disorder.

The trio, played by Anthony Anderson, Mongo Brownlee and Jerod Mixon, could be back in action as early as this fall in a pic that the Farrellys and Thomas will produce for Fox.

The Farrellys’ last Fox release, the 1998 comedy “There’s Something About Mary,” grossed more than $360 million worldwide. The duo was widely courted by comedy-hungry studios. Conundrum stayed put, Peter Farrelly said, largely because of the existing exec team.

“This is about (Fox honchos) Bill Mechanic, Tom Rothman, Tom Sherak and Hutch Parker, who are as un-Hollywood as Up With People, and I mean that in a good way,” Peter Farrelly said. “When ‘Kingpin’ came out and was considered a major disappointment and the phone wasn’t ringing, Tom Sherak called. We’d never met, but he said he’d just seen the film and loved it, that it would have made $100 million if they’d had ‘Kingpin,’ and to bring over whatever project we wanted to do next.

“That got us in the door, and when we came in with ‘Mary,’ which was an R-rated comedy that really pushed the envelope, we asked them to trust us and they did. Bill, Tom and Hutch said ‘go for it’ and gave us a lot of rope. They never asked us to cut one thing out of what was then considered a dangerous movie.”

Farrelly also credited Fox marketing prexy Bob Harper, who rolled out “Mary” slowly, spending money as the film built word of mouth. “Mary” opened in fourth place but built slowly and didn’t top the gross charts until its eighth week. “He told us he’d put 10% of the ad money into the pre-opening, and everything else after that,” said Farrelly. “It was terrifying. I begged him to put at least 50% into the opening. But he was right and I was grateful.”

‘Hal’ pushed back

Though Farrelly said he and Bobby planned to begin “Hal” in November, they’ve pushed back until next summer because of his wife’s pending August stork visit. When they roll, they’ll give the title role to up-and-comer Black, who was most recently seen alongside John Cusack in “High Fidelity.” Shandling will play his best friend.

The “Me, Myself & Irene” spinoff is being written by Ricky Blitt. “(The trio of sons) are these huge, absolutely brilliant guys who love their dad and are the heroes of the film,” said Peter Farrelly. “We hope to shoot the film as early as fall.”

The Farrellys and Thomas hired Blitt after the “Family Guy” scribe pitched them another pic they’ll produce called “The Ringer,” which fits with the Farrelly knack of taking seemingly taboo topics and playing them for laughs.

“Two guys trying to fix the Special Olympics sounds terrifying, but this has more heart than anything you’ve ever seen,” Farrelly said. “It’s actually a ringing endorsement for the Special Olympics, while at the same time being hysterical.”

Expanded slate

The emergence of Blitt came through Conundrum’s recent move to expand their slate beyond Farrelly-directed fare, which led to the upcoming J.B. Rogers-helmed Fox comedy “Say It Isn’t So,” which stars Chris Klein and Heather Graham as lovers who make the uncomfortable discovery they may be siblings. The writers of that pic, Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow, are also responsible for the first animated film to be originated by the Farrellys and Thomas.

While the Farrellys came aboard to produce Warner Bros.’ “Osmosis Jones” and will direct the live-action sequences with Bill Murray, their first home-grown animated feature will be the Gaulke-Swallow-scripted “Party Animals,” a Fox project.

The pic concerns a group of lab test animals who live a good life being fed daily doses of marijuana, cigarettes and sexual enhancers. Much to their horror, the content critters are busted out by animal activists, and have outside world concerns like drug and nicotine withdrawal. “They’re hooked on the booze, the pot and all their vices in what is definitely an R-rated movie,” Farrelly said.

Steady comedy diet

The new and improved Fox deal will enable Conundrum to crank out a steadier diet of their kind of comedies, Farrelly said. Other projects include “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” a comedy to star Rob Schneider that Conundrum will produce with Stanley Wilson, and “Sonny Bright,” a Wayne Rice and Gina Goldman-scripted pic that Doug Liman will direct, as well as “The Six Billion Dollar Man” with producer Larry Gordon and “Shanghai Noon” scribes Miles Millar and Al Gough.

“We like to direct a movie every other year, but there are a lot of scripts we like and now have a bunch of really good guys to get them done,” Farrelly said. “I don’t want to reach the end and see I was involved in 10 or 12 films, I’d like to have a hand in more of them, and be able to champion the vision of guys like Gaulke, Swallow and Ricky Blitt.”

Conundrum will continue to be shepherded by 20th Century Fox prexy Hutch Parker, and the Farrellys were repped by CAA.

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