After several false starts at producing a bigscreen adaptation of the Larry McMurtry novel “The Desert Rose,” Columbia Pictures has reoptioned the book, and will start from scratch with Nora Ephron at the helm. Ephron will team with sister Delia to write the script, and Laurence Mark will produce.

Published in 1993, “Desert Rose” is the story of a single mother who is hanging on as the lead dancer at a Vegas casino. Paralleling her descent is the rise of her gorgeous daughter, who has begun to make a name for herself in showgirl circles. The film is being exec produced by Keith Barish and Nicholas Pileggi, the latter of whom is the author and co-scribe of the movie adaptation of “Casino.”

“I’ve always loved the book and tried to get hired to write the script when it was first published,” Ephron said. “It is a side of Vegas you don’t really get to see and it is a great mother-daughter story.”

Ephron, who will begin writing right away, has been busy working on her first play, “Imaginary Friends,” which is headed to San Diego in fall and will move to Broadway in December, but the replanting of “Rose” with her at the helm gives Col hope that it will finally turn the McMurtry book into a film. The studio has been unsuccessful, despite script drafts from the likes of James Bridges and Terrence Malick.

Mark, who worked with the Ephrons on the Diane Keaton-directed “Hanging Up,” was key in getting the project restarted, and it is one of several he is prepping. Mark is producing an adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s “Basket Case” at Fox 2000 with Michael Tolkin adapting; and with John Davis, he’s producing another long-gestating book adaptation, the Fox-based Isaac Asimov sci-fi classic “I, Robot.” Alex Proyas (“Dark City”) is directing a Jeff Vintar script that has woven elements of the nine-book series, as well as Vintar’s own script “Hardwired,” into a sci-fi whodunit. The pic’s expected to shoot in the fall in Australia.

A “HIGH” CONCEPT CONTINUED: Rappers-turned-actors Redman and Method Man, whose debut “How High” did surprisingly strong business for Universal Pictures, is getting back in business with the studio. “How High” cost $12 million and grossed $31 million, and starred the duo as pot smokers who cultivated a plant that actually enhanced their brain cells enough to get them into Harvard. The film ended with the crawl that Redman married the president’s daughter and was assigned to become a DEA agent. Sure enough, U, Jersey and Native Films are putting together an untitled action/comedy that will pair the duo as drug cops. The film will be in the vein of “Bad Boys,” and is being written by Don Scott, who just did a rewrite on “Barber Shop,” the MGM comedy that stars Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer. The U pic’s being shepherded by U execs Mary Parent and Tim O’Hair, and will be produced by Native’s Shauna Garr and James Ellis and Jersey’s Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher and Pamela Abdy.

SHOWTIME’S “EARTHLING” ENCOUNTER: Showtime has greenlit the two-hour pilot for “Earthlings,” a series designed around lesbian characters. The series was created by scribe Ilene Chaiken, who has graduated from “Barb Wire” to two of that payweb’s efforts, the Golden Globe-winning “Dirty Pictures,” and most recently the pic “Damaged Care.” She’ll exec produce with Anonymous Content’s Steve Golin and Larry Kennar. Drama revolves around a group of lesbian friends in Los Angeles, including a woman who has moved there to be with her fiance, but is seduced by a same-sex acquaintance who lives nearby. The network’s out to directors and will cast soon.

NICHOLL PROVES WORTH: Hot from winning a Nicholl Fellowship for his script, “The Crasher,” Alfred Botello has signed with an agent at WMA and has a deal that will see his script turned into a film by MTV and Paramount. Botello retitled his script “Pleased to Meet Me,” and it found its way to producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa through their exec Carlo Martinelli. The producers, through their Bona Fide shingle, set up the script with MTV Films’ David Gale and Susan Lewis, the co-conspirators on the Alex Payne-directed “Election.” Set in San Francisco, the script’s about a young man who battles boredom with inspired episodes of party crashing. He meets an equally troubled woman at a party and they fall in love. Botello also has a deal with Red Wagon’s Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher on a new idea he pitched them.

DISHINGS: Julie Christie, who’s notoriously choosy in picking projects, has signed to join Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet in “Neverland,” the Miramax film that is director Marc Forster’s followup to “Monster’s Ball”… The sequel frenzy continues. Revolution started putting together a sequel to “XXX” even though that pic doesn’t bow until August, and word is that Universal and Imagine are already discussing a sequel to “Undercover Brother,” the Eddie Griffin starrer that bows Friday. While Revolution already has put the principals in “XXX” deals, U sources said the studio will wait to see if “Bro” holds up before making deals.