Grazer digging ‘Deep’

U expected to distrib pic unrated in early 2005

Theater circuits shopping for a nonfiction box office prospect in the wake of “Fahrenheit 9/11” may not have long to wait. Universal Pictures has agreed to distribute “Inside Deep Throat,” a celebrity-studded, sexually graphic documentary produced by Brian Grazer.

Directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, “Inside Deep Throat” examines the cultural impact of the 1972 porn classic starring Linda Lovelace and reveals how anti-porn crusaders ended up enriching Mafia enforcers. “Inside Deep Throat” is expected to reach theaters unrated in early 2005.

Docu signals a new direction for Imagine Entertainment, the prolific production entity Grazer formed in 1986 with director Ron Howard. Imagine once was identified with broad comedies like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Nutty Professor” that earned billions in box office, homevideo and licensing. Today, the slate is a deeper reflection of Grazer’s own eclectic interests, running the gamut from dramas and thrillers to an animated version of “Curious George” (featuring the voice of Will Ferrell) and the “Deep Throat” doc.

‘Friday Night’ blitz

Last month, Universal Pictures blitzed theaters with the first trailer for Imagine’s “Friday Night Lights,” a football drama produced by Grazer and directed by Peter Berg, set for release Oct. 15. In March, U will release Depression-era boxing drama “The Cinderella Man,” directed by Howard and starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger.

In September, Imagine starts shooting three new projects:

  • “Tru Blu” (Universal). Antoine Fuqua’s biopic of Harlem heroin kingpin Frank Lucas, written by Steven Zaillian, will star Denzel Washington as Lucas and Benicio Del Toro as the police officer who pursues him.

  • “Fun With Dick and Jane” (Sony). Dean Parisot’s remake of the 1978 George Segal-Jane Fonda comedy follows wealthy marrieds who turn to a life of crime after losing their savings in a corporate scandal. Judd Apatow, Nick Stoller and Ed Solomon penned the script. Jim Carrey stars; distaff lead is being cast.

  • “Flight Plan” (Disney). Robert Schwentke’s thriller concerns a grieving widow whose daughter vanishes onboard a transatlantic flight. Written by Peter Dowling, Terry Hayes and Billy Ray, it stars Jodie Foster.

Deciphering ‘Da Vinci’

Imagine also is prepping “The Da Vinci Code” (Sony), Akiva Goldsman’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s literary blockbuster, which is expected be Howard’s next film after “Cinderella Man” (John Calley is one of the producers); and heist film “The Inside Man” (Universal), written by Menno Meyjes and Russell Gewirtz and directed by Meyjes (“Max”).

Grazer says he’s through with Seuss adaptations for now and his interest in comedy has waned. “It’s harder to make big comedies that people respect,” he said. “I guess our culture has changed. Kids are more interested in the casting and the vibe than they are in the story.”

“Dick and Jane” may be a comedy, but Grazer has sought to give it a serious subtext, involving downsizing at an Enron-like company.

It helps that Grazer has a stable support structure. Imagine Entertainment prexy Michael Rosenberg has worked with Grazer for 15 years. Imagine Films co-chair Karen Kehela, now based in New York, has been there for 16 years. Then there’s Howard, Grazer’s partner of almost two decades. The filmmaker, who lives on the East Coast, may not be a part of daily development meetings, but he plays a big role as Imagine films are edited and readied for release.

Imagine has its headquarters on the seventh floor of the Wilshire Boulevard high-rise that once housed Mike Ovitz’s oppressively opulent AMG offices (now inhabited by the Firm). The Imagine suite is a refreshing contrast, a serene combination of waterfalls, plants and stone wall fixtures. On a recent visit, it moved at a manic tempo. Assistants whirled about. A Playboy pinball machine, circa 1978, was parked next to a spiffier “Apollo 13” console outside Grazer’s corner office.

Looking at society

Like other top producers, Grazer is keenly interested in the ways in which movies and ideas develop mass appeal — or fail to. But, unlike the others, he’s also interested in talking about the social paradigms that shape them.

How “Deep Throat” became a mass phenomenon is one of the questions at the center of his new doc.

“There were 50 years, at least, of pornography that preceded ‘Deep Throat.’ ‘Deep Throat’ had a great title and it celebrated the right iconic act — it celebrated a blowjob,” Grazer said. “Because of the title and what it successfully celebrated, it became the most litigated, most profitable movie ever.”

Partly financed by HBO, the doc includes interviews with Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Carl Bernstein, Hugh Hefner, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal and John Waters.

Universal, which was among the bidders for “Fahrenheit 9/11,” now has a shot at its own doc blockbuster –though the scenes of graphic sex could present a problem at the multiplex.

“It’s provocative, of course,” Grazer said. “We have to include archival footage that makes it unrated. It’s the accident of the skill of Linda Lovelace that turned a movie called ‘The Nurses’ into a movie called ‘Deep Throat’ that then became a cultural phenomenon.”

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