Who’ll wear ‘Dunces’ cap?

After 23 years, novel has director, cast, no backing

“A Confederacy of Dunces” continues to have as many misadventures trying to get to the bigscreen as the novel’s main character had trying to get his life together.

After 23 years in development hell, the adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comic novel finally has a cast and director. An early spring start date is planned.

Except that Miramax’s decision last week to bail as the pic’s backer has forced “Dunces” to again seek financing.

“Dunces,” first published in 1980, follows the labyrinthine story of Ignatius J. Reilly, a paunchy intellectual who suffers through a series of hilariously bad jobs and stilted romances while living with his wacky mother in New Orlean’s French Quarter during the 1960s.

The novel’s journey toward the moviehouse has been just as tough.

“Dunces” has now been orphaned by three studios, perhaps put off by “Dunces’ ” multiple subplots and incredible cast of characters. A flirtation with Warner Bros. has cooled.

Miramax paid Paramount $1.5 million for the project in 2001, with the intention of lensing next spring in New Orleans.

Par had obtained the rights to “Dunces” in 1993, for Scott Rudin to produce and Steven Soderbergh to direct. At the time, pic was planned to bow in 1994, with a budget of $12 million.

Frustration followed. In 1996, Soderbergh and Scott Kramer (who optioned the book in 1980) sued Par and Rudin, claiming they were shut out of a project they had long pursued after the studio secretly obtained rights to the book.

Long before that, Mike Medavoy attempted to get the movie made at Orion Pictures, with Harold Ramis attached.

When the Orion deal fell through, Ramis took the project to Fox, where Rudin snatched up the property when he headed the studio’s production arm.

One sign of hope: the pic’s producers won’t have to start from scratch this time.

Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore, Lily Tomlin, Mos Def and Olympia Dukakis are attached to star. Sharon Stone and Larry David are also eyeing the project.

Indie helmer David Gordon Green is still planning on directing from a script written by Kramer and Soderbergh.

Soderbergh and Rudin will exec produce with Flower Films partners Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen.

That is, unless the film gets stuck in development hell all over again.

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