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‘Used’ vehicle just waiting for gas

Fox vows to get stalled laffer back on track

Fox’s 11th-hour decision last week to unplug “Used Guys” left reps for stars Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey checking contracts and rival studios scrambling to take advantage of their sudden availability.

But don’t count the laffer out just yet.

Fox vows to get the film back on track. And unplugged pics often do come back — but almost always at higher cost.

Fox says “Used Guys” — about a pair of obsolete pleasure clones — was halted because its futuristic sets wouldn’t be ready for a June start. But it was actually scrapped because its budget sailed past $110 million — despite the stars and helmer Jay Roach working for reduced rates.

A Fox rep says there were no pay-or-play deals to settle on “Used Guys,” making it a plug-pulling anomaly.

Universal paid more than $20 million to settle pay-or-play deals with Denzel Washington and Benicio Del Toro when it halted “American Gangster” weeks before pic’s fall 2004 start because of budget fears. Warner Bros. paid that much to settle deals with Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage on their “Superman” movie. WB had to settle up with Ridley Scott and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1997 after canceling “I Am Legend” when the budget passed the century mark.

But all three of those pics came back to life:

“American Gangster” was reconstituted with brighter star wattage and a higher budget, with Scott directing Russell Crowe and Washington this spring. Despite two more rounds of futility with Brett Ratner and McG, Warner Bros. finally got a “Superman” film from Bryan Singer. And Warners starts production later this year on “I Am Legend” with Francis Lawrence directing Will Smith.

If Fox does rescue “Used Guys” from obsolescence, the studio might want to remember “The Alamo” before trying to do it on the cheap. Fearful of an R rating and a high budget, Disney unplugged a version of “The Alamo” with Crowe and director Ron Howard. A cheaper, PG-13 version with John Lee Hancock and Dennis Quaid flopped.

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