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Fox near to quorum for ‘Fantastic’ quartet

Pic to lense within next several months for release in 2005

Fox has nearly found its “Fantastic Four.”

Studio has signed Michael Chiklis to play Ben Grimm/the Thing, Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic and Chris Evans as Johnny Storm/the Human Torch. And Jessica Alba, currently shooting Dimension’s “Sin City,” has emerged as most likely to play Sue Richards/the Invisible Woman, though Rachel MacAdams and Keri Russell are also candidates.

Chiklis, best known for FX series “The Shield,” was the first of the quartet to be set. Gruffudd is currently starring as Lancelot in “King Arthur” while Evans will be seen in “Cellular.”

“We see ‘Fantastic Four’ as the last great jewel in the comicbook crown,” said Fox production prexy Hutch Parker. “The casting has been extremely important in terms of fulfilling expectations of an audience that’s been incredibly loyal to these characters for over 40 years.”

“Four” centers on four astronauts — scientist Reed Richards, his wife, her brother and their friend Ben Grimm — who develop superhuman powers after their experimental spaceship is exposed to cosmic rays. They band together to fight against the evil Doctor Doom.

“Four” was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first published by Marvel in 1962. It subverted comicbook conventions of the time as the characters bickered among themselves.

The $85 million-$90 million pic is headed for an August or September start in Vancouver. Planned release date is July 1, 2005, when it will face off against Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 3.” That will mark the second Fourth of July weekend bow in a row for a Marvel-based superhero pic following “Spider-Man 2.”

“Four” is being helmed by “Barbershop” director Tim Story from a script written by Simon Kinberg. Story also directed upcoming Queen Latifah vehicle “Taxi” for Fox; that helped lead to the “Four” gig.

Producers are Marvel, 1492, Constantin and “X-Men” producer Ralph Winter. Production on “Four” is being overseen by Parker and senior veepee of production Alex Young.

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