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Marvel’s Daredevil on pic trail

New Regency taps Johnson to pen blind hero's tale

NEW YORK — As Fox rides a wave of strong buzz into Friday’s opening of the Bryan Singer-directed Marvel Comics superhero saga “X-Men,” New Regency Prods. has made a deal to give live-action treatment to another Marvel hero, Daredevil.

Arnon Milchan’s New Regency acquired rights to the character from Marvel Enterprises and has signed Mark Steven Johnson to write the script with an eye toward directing the film. Pic will be distributed domestically by Fox, which premieres “X-Men” tonight in Gotham on Ellis Island.

Daredevil, who made his Marvel Comics debut in 1964, is an agile superhero in a red spandex suit who happens to be as blind as justice, using the acutely heightened other senses he possesses to make up for the handicap and fight crime. Character’s alter ego is a lawyer named Matt Murdock, who grew so disillusioned with the legal system that he became the vigilante whose lack of fear and proficiency in the martial arts makes him a formidable hero.

Deal, made by New Regency production president Sanford Panitch and Marvel studios CEO/prexy Avi Arad, also accommodates Daredevil’s arch villains, the femme fatale Elektra and obese crime boss the Kingpin. The project originated with Chris Columbus’ 1492 Prods. at Fox before temporarily moving to Sony, the studio which first began talking to Johnson (Daily Variety, Feb. 23). New Regency then stepped up with a stronger deal to bring “Daredevil” into the fold, with Milchan and Arad as its producers.

Johnson’s ‘dream project’

The writer of “Grumpy Old Men” and its sequel, Johnson also directed “Simon Birch.” While such filmmakers as Columbus and Carlo Carlei once tried to mount the movie, the superhero is Johnson’s favorite and he has been seeking to do the movie for several years.

“It’s Mark’s dream project,” said Arad, who was pleased to have “Daredevil” in line to be distributed by Fox, which, aside from “X-Men,” is also developing the Marvel properties “The Fantastic Four” with Raja Gosnall directing and “Silver Surfer,” with “Seven” scribe Andrew Kevin Walker writing the script.

Project marks the latest high-profile pic for New Regency since Panitch took the reins as prexy last July. Company, which is coming off the success of “Big Momma’s House,” is in pre-production on the Tom Green-directed comedy “Freddy Got Fingered,” as well as “High Crimes,” the Carl Franklin-directed military thriller to star Ashley Judd. New Regency is also back in business with Joel Schumacher on “Dare,” a dark sexy thriller, and is readying the time-travel comedy “Black Knight” for “Big Momma’s House” star Martin Lawrence.

Johnson is repped by CAA.

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