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Helmer ‘Fools’ around

Michael Mann is negotiating to direct “Fortune’s Fools,” a drama with black-comedy overtones about a group of five L.A. cops who steal a winning lottery ticket worth $36 million from a drug dealer.

The project is going forward with Working Title and Universal. The script by Erik Bergquist seems a good match for Mann, who has covered the L.A. cop beat in “Heat” and in “Robbery Homicide Division,” the CBS series that he and partner Sandy Climan are prepping.

Mann aligned himself to “Fortune’s Fools” several years ago when it was set up at Fox 2000, a courtship that ended when the director committed to direct Will Smith in “Ali.”

The project has been a target of actors and directors since it was set up at Fox six years ago, with Michael Apted trying once to do it with Ben Affleck and Ed Harris, only to have it stall. That studio finally put it in turnaround and its original producer, Michael London, set it up with Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.

London and former partner Paul Schiff will continue producing, and Mann and Climan are expected to come aboard in that capacity as well.

After getting his first series since “Miami Vice” and “Crime Story” up and running, Mann is once again focusing on features. He’s got several projects percolating, including a bigscreen update of “Vice.” He has not committed to direct that project, however.

BEN SCRIPTS LEHANE: Last time Ben Affleck wrote a movie, he and writing partner Matt Damon shared an Oscar for “Good Will Hunting.” Affleck is negotiating to write another feature, and if he likes the results, he will make it his feature directorial debut. The project is “Gone, Baby, Gone,” a novel by Dennis Lehane, the author whose “Mystic River” has morphed into a Clint Eastwood-directed film with Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins. “Gone, Baby, Gone” is part of a series of five mysteries involving a pair of Boston private eyes named Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. The book was optioned this year by Paramount and producer Alan Ladd Jr. in hopes that Affleck would star. Ladd has the rights to another book from the series, “Prayers for Rain,” and the hope is that it will add up to another Paramount franchise for Affleck, who scored a hit in his first turn as Jack Ryan in “The Sum of All Fears.” Affleck has been doing some writing in television, working with Sean Bailey to script “Push, Nevada,” the ABC series they co-created. On the acting side, Affleck just completed the title role in “Daredevil”; he’s following that with the Kevin Smith-directed “Jersey Girl” and then stars in “Surviving Christmas.”

LOWE GOES: After the news broke on Wednesday that he won’t be returning to “The West Wing” (Daily Variety, July 24), Rob Lowe was hardly a shrinking violet, lunching with his dealmakers at the Grill. One of the first people he ran into was former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. “Hi, I used to work at the White House too,” Lowe quipped.

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