Fox fires first salvo in summer ’01 battle

Li makes surprise appearance with a 'Kiss'

Twentieth Century Fox has fired the opening shot in the battle for prime summer 2001 real estate by skedding release dates for its four event films.

The slate includes a revised release date for “Planet of the Apes,” which begins production Nov. 6, as well as firm dates for “Moulin Rouge” and “Doctor Dolittle 2.”

Also on deck is a surprise entry, “Kiss of the Dragon,” starring Jet Li. Fox has closed a deal with producer Luc Besson to handle the film in North America as well as a number of international territories.

“While it is not uncommon for a studio to stake out a summer date months in advance for one picture, we are so excited about these films that we have planted our flag for all four,” said Bruce Snyder, Fox’s president of distribution. “We look forward to an outstanding summer — and year.”

Still without a date is “Black Knight,” a title once anticipated for summer release. The Martin Lawrence vehicle has been greenlit, however, and is about to begin production in North Carolina.

On June 1, Fox’s summer will kick off with “Moulin Rouge,” directed by Baz Luhrmann (“William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet”) and starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Musical is set in the gaudy and glamorous Parisian nightclub at the turn of the 20th century but features modern-era pop tunes.

Current competition for “Moulin” includes Sony Pictures’ “Knight’s Tale,” starring Heath Ledger.

The following week will bring Eddie Murphy in “Doctor Dolittle 2” on June 8. Steve Carr (“Next Friday”) directs from a screenplay by Larry Levin, with John Davis producing. The original 1998 blockbuster comedy grossed over $300 million worldwide.

On July 6, international action star Li and filmmaker Besson (“The Fifth Element”) will join forces for the thriller “Kiss of the Dragon.” Chris Nahon directs the film, which Besson co-scripted with Robert Mark Kamen. Bridget Fonda also stars in the pic, which revolves around a Chinese intelligence officer who goes to Paris on assignment and becomes embroiled in a deadly conspiracy.

Besson produces with Li, Steve Chasman and Happy Walters. Fox Intl. will also handle the title in Mexico, the U.K., Italy, Spain, New Zealand, and Australia.

Originally set for July 4, Tim Burton’s take on “Planet of the Apes” will now go July 27. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter, pic is produced by Richard Zanuck with a screenplay by William Broyles Jr. (“Apollo 13,” “Cast Away”). Behind-the-scenes talent includes five-time Academy Award-winning makeup effects artist Rick Baker (“Men in Black”) and production designer Rick Heinrichs (“Sleepy Hollow”).

Farrelly fare

Rewinding to the start of 2001, Fox has slated Feb. 2 for the Farrelly Bros.’ “Say It Isn’t So.” Produced with Bradley Thomas and directed by J. B. Rogers from a script by Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow, comedy stars Chris Klein and Heather Graham as a couple whose romance comes to a screeching halt when he discovers that she’s his sister. When he learns that she really ‘isn’t’, he tries to win her back before she marries another man.

Fox has slotted New Regency’s thriller “Squelch” for March 9. Pic, originally slated for a 2000 release, stars Steve Zahn, Paul Walker and Leelee Sobieski as three college students who play a practical joke on a lonely trucker. In turn, he seeks revenge and becomes their worst nightmare. John Dahl (“The Last Seduction”) directs from a script by Clay Tarver and Jeffrey Abrams. Pic is produced by Chris Moore and Abrams.

Romantic comedy “Animal Husbandry” has claimed March 30. Ashley Judd stars as a TV producer who decides to study the male animal after her romance with a colleague (Greg Kinnear) goes awry. Helmed by Tony Goldwyn, pic also stars Hugh Jackman and Marisa Tomei. Lynda Obst produces.

More monkeying around

Henry Selick’s (“The Nightmare Before Christmas”) “Monkeybone” has been pushed from Jan./Feb. 2001 to April 11. Pic stars Brendan Fraser and Bridget Fonda in a comedy that combines live-action, stop-motion and CGI in the story of a cartoonist who slips into a coma following a freak accident. He and his animated creation, Monkeybone, end up in a strange land where the creature wreaks comic havoc on his struggle to return to the real world. Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe and Michael Barnathan produce.

Finally, on April 20, Fox and New Regency will release the Tom Green comedy “Freddy Got Fingered,” co-written with Derke Harvie. Green plays a slacker whose refusal to get a life provokes all-out war between him and his father (Rip Torn). Arnon Milchan, Larry Brezner and Lauren Lloyd produce.