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Fox ‘Four’ play heats up

Story moves from stylists to superheroes

“Barbershop” helmer Tim Story will direct Marvel Comics’ “The Fantastic Four” at 20th Century Fox.

Lensing is set to begin as early as August on the pic, which follows the exploits of venerable Marvel Comics characters Reed and Sue Richards, Benjamin Grimm and Johnny Storm — better known to comics fans as Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Thing and the Human Torch.

Pic is being produced by Constantin Film, Marvel’s Avi Arad and by 1492 principals Michael Barnathan and Chris Columbus. “X-Men” producer Ralph Winter and Stan Lee will also produce in capacities still being determined, according to a Fox spokeswoman.

Budget is estimated at between $85 million and $90 million, according to insiders.

Ostensibly the first-ever family of superheroes, the Four aren’t superheroes in the traditional sense. They don’t fight crime or patrol the streets of a particular city. Their true identities are not kept secret. A clan of scientist-astronauts imbued with special mutant powers, they serve as explorers and ambassadors to other planets, and function without traditional “beats” like Superman in Metropolis or Batman in Gotham.

“What attracted me was that they are a family,” said Story, reached while scouting locations in Vancouver. “They might want to wring each others necks. They might storm out and disappear for three days, but you also know they’ll be back. They don’t always get along.”

Marvel Enterprises CEO Avi Arad agreed, noting that because neither the characters’ powers nor their identities are concealed, “Fantastic Four” offers far richer characters than the usual spandex-filled tales.

“Many times, you need a star to define the movie,” Arad said. “That’s not the case here. We can focus on getting the actors that are totally right for the roles.”

While no casting negotiations have begun, the studio has been inquiring about the availability of “The Shield” topliner Michael Chiklis to play the role of the Thing while his FX cable skein is on hiatus late this summer.

And while internet geek sites have buzzed for days that Tim Robbins is in the running to play villain Dr. Doom, Story strongly cautioned that he had yet to have a single casting meeting about the film.

Story most recently helmed Fox’s remake of the French-lingo “Taxi,” starring Queen Latifah, due out in October. Pic is tracking well, according to Parker, “Taxi’s” action/comedy tone was the main reason why “Four” went to Story.

Latest version of the “Four” script is penned by Mark Frost (“Storyville”).

Production on “Four” is being overseen by Fox production prexy Hutch Parker and senior veepee of production Alex Young, with July 1, 2005 earmarked as its opening weekend.

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