Ratner rushes out of ‘Superman’

Difficulty of casting lead role contributes to decision

Brett Ratner will no longer direct “Superman” for Warner Bros. Pictures and sister company New Line Cinema couldn’t be happier.

That’s because Ratner had previously agreed to make “Rush Hour 3” as his next picture — and New Line has just hired “Bad Company” scribe Jason Richman to write the script.

In order to make his “Superman” deal last September, Ratner asked New Line if he could be released from their prior agreement that “Rush Hour 3” would be his next project. New Line gave its blessing, but with the understanding that the Chris Tucker-Jackie Chan action-comedy would follow thereafter.

New Line hopes to have a first draft from Richman in eight weeks.

As of Wednesday afternoon, according to his CAA reps, Ratner was still attached to “Superman.” Later that day, Ratner’s camp changed its tune, scrambling to release a statement late that evening.

Stated Ratner, “I have chosen to withdraw as director of ‘Superman.’ The difficulty of casting the role of Superman has contributed to my decision. I appreciate the efforts of Warner Bros. and the entire production team during this process.”

Warners production president Jeff Robinov responded with his own statement: “We have tremendous regard for Brett’s creativity and passion for this project and we understand that this was a very tough choice for him. We are disappointed but wish him the best in his future pursuits.”

So while New Line celebrated the prodigal son’s return, Warners is left with neither director nor superhero. However, a Warners spokeswoman said the studio had every intention of moving forward with “Superman.” The final straw for Ratner seems to have been the unwillingness of Warners execs to approve Ratner’s choice as the Man of Steel, soap star Matthew Bomer. Among the actors who tested for the role were Brendan Fraser, Paul Walker and Josh Hartnett.

Hartnett passed, Walker took himself out of the mix and the race was between Bomer and Fraser as of late last week.

Studio also became uncomfortable with Ratner’s collaborative decision- making style that sought to please everyone but ultimately didn’t please Warners. Nor were relations aided by the very public tension between Ratner and “Superman” producer Jon Peters.

The “Superman” budget also had escalated to $225 million, even with the hiring of a second line producer to bring the budget down to $200 million.

Ratner’s transition to “Rush Hour 3” isn’t entirely seamless. While the director has already made his deal for the second sequel, the same can’t be said for Tucker and Chan. New Line wants the stars to return, but it’s conceivable the franchise could move forward without them, if the studio couldn’t meet their pay demands.

The first two “Rush Hour” installments earned a combined $576 million at the global B.O.

Tucker hasn’t been on the bigscreen since the release of “Rush Hour 2” in August 2001, but he’s been shooting footage for “Mr. President,” a mockumentary about an African-American president.

Chan is shooting “Around the World in 80 Days” for Walden Media and Summit Entertainment and was most recently seen in “Shanghai Knights.” His next release is “The Medallion” (aka “Highbinders”) for Columbia Pictures Oct. 17.

Repped by ICM and managed by the Bauer Co., Richman recently wrote a draft of Paramount Pictures’ “Beverly Hills Cop 4.”

(Michael Fleming and Dave McNary contributed to this report.)