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U plays catch with ‘Piazza’

Producer Rotman, scribe Oxford penned comedy

Universal Pictures has snapped up the spec script “Go to Hell, Mike Piazza” for $800,000 against $1.5 million as a possible starring vehicle for Ben Stiller.

In catching “Hell,” U is understood to have edged out New Line Cinema and Col-based Phoenix Pictures, the latter of which bowed out because of the lack of foreign interest in baseball. (Phoenix takes overseas distrib rights on all its pics.)

Although a comedy, “Go to Hell, Mike Piazza” has also proved a bit of a Hollywood whodunit: The scribes listed on the spec’s cover are “J.J. Kanutsen and Milton Manoon,” but the spec was, in fact, the handiwork of “Cliffhanger” and “Dragonheart” producer David Rotman and his co-scribe, Ryan Oxford.

Said Rotman: “It’s a dream, you know, as a producer, to step in as a writer?”

Pound of flesh

Comedy concerns a hot dog vendor whose childhood friendship with Mike Piazza has left him with a persecution complex — one that has him blaming the famed Met catcher for all that’s gone awry with his life. The hot dog man becomes obsessed with exacting his pound of flesh, and when he gets a chance to strike out Piazza in the All Star Game by winning a TV quizshow, his chance for “revenge” is made real.

“We wrote it expressly for Ben,” said Oxford, adding, “He has this great ability to play characters who feel slighted by the world — when they really are not — and who become obsessed by that.”

Rotman and Oxford’s deal was brokered by newly imported Intl. Creative Management agent Brian Sher, who ankled Broder Kurland Webb Uffner for ICM just a month ago.

Red Hour’s time

Stiller and producing partner Stuart Cornfeld will develop and produce “Piazza” through Stiller’s Red Hour Films shingle, which got hold of the project via Red Hour’s creative exec Rhoades Rader. Rotman will exec produce, while Oxford will serve as co-producer.

Scott Stuber and Mary Parent, co-prexys of production for Universal, closed the deal late Wednesday; Stuber and U’s veepee of production Tim O’Hair will oversee the project for the studio.

“Piazza” would be the first reteaming of Stiller and U after their breakout hit this past summer with “Meet the Parents,” which grossed $165 million domestically.

Directors mulled

It’s not clear who will helm the pic; insiders familiar with the talks say there is interest from the studio in Jon Turteltaub but that Stiller also is interested in working with “Parents” helmer Jay Roach again as well as helmers Tom Shadyac (“Patch Adams”) and Todd Phillips (“Road Trip”).

Stiller next will be seen in the Scott Rudin-produced laffer “Zoolander,” which Stiller co-wrote, produced, directed and is starring in for Par. He’s also starring in “The Royal Tennenbaums” for Wes Anderson at Disney.