Stars kick up ‘Dust’ for Towne

Parker, Stone excited about puppet-populated 'America'

What’s the best way to get studios bidding on a period classic like “Ask the Dust,” which has been gathering dust since it was written in 1939? For director Robert Towne, the answer was landing Colin Farrell and “2 Fast 2 Furious” star Eva Mendes.

That duo’s ready to star in Towne’s adaptation of the John Fante novel about a pair of immigrants whose chase of the American dream in 1930s L.A. leads them to each other. CW partners Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise, who produced Towne’s last directing effort, 1998’s “Without Limits,” will produce with Jonas McCord. CAA’s expected to broker a studio deal soon that will make “Dust” the first film Farrell does after completing the Oliver Stone-directed Intermedia epic “Alexander,” which starts shooting this summer.

The book has been on Towne’s mind so long that he used it as a touchstone for “Chinatown”; he’s wanted to direct “Ask the Dust” for about 30 years. Farrell will play Arturo Bandini, a first generation Italian hoping to land a writing career and a blue-eyed blonde on his arm. Mendes plays Camilla, a fiery Mexican beauty who hopes to rise above her station by marrying an American.

Towne, who finally gets to direct a film that doesn’t involve a sweaty track star, will work around the fact that Farrell is Irish and Mendes of Cuban descent. She will next be seen starring with Denzel Washington in the MGM drama “Out of Time” and alongside Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear in the Farrelly Brothers-directed conjoined twins comedy “Stuck on You.”

A DIRECTOR’S DREAM: While movie stars are cornerstones of most summer pics, the lack of them has “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone most excited about doing the puppet-populated action spoof “Team America.” “We came up with several very funny live-action movie ideas, but decided we dreaded being on the set with actors,” said Parker, who’ll direct the script he wrote with Stone and Pam Brady, with Stone and Scott Rudin producing. “We came up with an idea that was right up our alley, an action film with marionettes and lots of good musical numbers. Matt and I do most of the voices on ‘South Park’ and can do the same here.” Stone and Parker themselves have acted in films, so what’s wrong with thespians? “We most hate those certain actors who take themselves so seriously and think they serve a productive and important part of society,” Parker said. “The subtle joke here is that all actors are puppets. This will probably piss off everyone in town, and might well be our swan song.”

PIC DRAFTS ON NBA EVENT: Spike Lee haunts the sidelines of Knicks games, but his director cousin Malcolm Lee was the overriding presence at Thursday’s NBA draft. He won’t begin shooting the Universal hoops pic “The Rucker” until August, but he and producer Kevin Misher got a head start by shooting the entire draft, even getting NBA commish David Stern to work in a fictional character who doesn’t get drafted and heads to Harlem’s legendary streetball mecca Rucker Park, where he hopes to capture the attention of NBA players who come there to test their games.

DISHINGS: Two weeks after Columbia and Brian Grazer engaged Jim Carrey’s go-to guy Judd Apatow to crack the code on a “Fun with Dick and Jane” remake, Apatow has delivered and a fall start for stars Carrey, Cameron Diaz and director Barry Sonnenfeld, is looking realistic… After watching her Jessica Savitch book “Golden Girl” get turned from a tragedy into the love story “Up Close and Personal,” author Alanna Nash has engaged indie producer Ira Deutchman and music manager Steve Goetzman to broker a film sale for her new book. Called “The Colonel,” the book focuses on Elvis Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker. Book tries to tackle the mystery behind Parker’s moves with Elvis and his insistence on avoiding global travel. The author suggests that covering up a homicide in Parker’s early life might have been the reason. She hopes to avoid the whitewash that occurred when she sold her Savitch book to Ed Hookstratten, that TV journo’s last agent. “He had pointed opinions how he wanted to see her story onscreen while I wanted to honor her tragedy,” Nash said. “When the studio began asking if the girl had to die at the end, it went from Jessica Savitch to ‘A Star is Born,'” she said… …Joe Eszterhas has delivered to Knopf’s Sonny Mehta his 1,500 page movie memoir “Hollywood Animals: Life in the Zoo.” Editors have cut it in half for a spring 2004 pub date.

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