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HOLLYWOOD NOTES: JULY 2002

Mike Myers makes peace with Universal and shoots Cat, while Arnie prepares T3 and Conan’s farewell, reports Nick Roddick from the belly of the Hollywood beast.

Hollywood can be pretty casual when it comes to casting actors to play major historical figures. But present ’em with a children’s classic - make that an American children’s classic - and the film community starts tripping over itself in deep respect.

Some readers may recall just how long it took the Geisel estate to agree to let Brian Grazer and Ron Howard film the late Theodore Geisel (aka Dr Seuss)’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Well, an equally long period of negotiation and soul-searching evidently preceded this spring’s announcement that Mike Myers is to embody The Cat in the Hat in the movie of that name.

Like The Grinch, the film has been developed by Grazer and Howard’s Imagine and will be made at Universal, though with DreamWorks sharing some of the costs this time around.

Seuss’ Cat may not have stolen (or even spoiled) Christmas, but it was not an unmitigated blessing to have in the house: its speciality was a boundless confidence that it could solve all problems whereas, in reality, each solution just made things worse. In the new film, it will be asked in to play by two children and end up destroying their home.

This would seem to be the exact reverse of what has happened between Myers and Universal. The last time the two spoke amicably was some four years ago, when the Austin Powers actor announced he was going to revive his Saturday Night Live character, Dieter, in a Universal movie. Dieter was one of Myers’ more outrageous creations: an avant-garde German TV talkshow host with a pet monkey who somehow found himself on American TV where he kept asking his guests if they wanted to play with his monkey (‘monkey’ being US schoolboy slang for penis, as in ‘spanking the...’). The movie was to be called Sprockets, and was scheduled to mark the directorial debut of production designer Bo Welch.

That announcement was followed by a long silence, then by rumblings of discontent and finally by a full-blown law suit when Myers tried to get out of the deal, alleging that the script was not up to scratch. Universal, in a move unparalleled in recent relations between a star and a studio, sued; Myers countersued. Then, as everyone knew it would be, it was all settled out of court.

The Cat in the Hat deal thus marks an apparent burying of the hatchet, and Grazer appears to have been the one who came up with the solution, if only by pointing out that no one would be better suited to donning the Hat than Myers. He described this process rather portentously to Daily Variety as building “a creative bridge […] in an organic way”. To Entertainment Weekly, he more pithily said: “Having Mike puts the story on steroids.”

Fuelled in whatever way, the film will be a live-action development of Seuss’ character, who never stayed around long enough to do anything that would build into a two-hour script (although he did manage to secure the good Doctor a place in the Top 10 best-selling children’s books of all time). The script for the movie will be by Alec Berg, Jeff Schaeffer and Dave Mandel, who used to write for Seinfeld and were apparently brought in to do uncredited rewrites on The Grinch.
Myers will be on-screen mid year in the third Austin Powers episode, Goldmember. Work on the Cat pic is due to start some time this northern hemisphere autumn, and Welch will finally get his chance to direct.

Speaking of the Bond movies, they are about to be spoofed yet again. Now, you may have thought that the element of self-parody in the franchise was so great that further spoofing was impossible. Perhaps so, but the trick in Agent Cody Banks is that the spy is in his early teens and played by Frankie Muniz, best known for playing the title character of Malcolm in the Middle and currently appearing on the big-screen in Big Fat Liar.

The kid is apparently hired by the US government because it needs someone to infiltrate a teen organisation. The film will be directed by Dutch-born, Norwegian-trained commercials director Harald Zwart (who made his feature debut with One Night at McCool’s), and is being produced by German-backed company Splendid Pictures, together with indie outfit Maverick Films. It’s being made in conjunction with MGM (which handles the Bond franchise, so evidently does not object to its spoofing), and started shooting on May 27 in LA.

T3 + 2 FOR SCHWARZENEGGER
IT WOULD BE fair to say: He’s back. Undaunted by the apparent decline in his box-office drawing power, Warner Bros has followed through on its commitment to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the character that launched his career in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines with the announcement that it will handle two further Arnie outings.

One is yet another reprise of a familiar role: a third escapade for Conan the Barbarian. What may lift this one above the second shoddy sequel is that it will have a script by John Milius, who wrote the original movie in conjunction with Oliver Stone (bet you’d forgotten that). It will be entitled King Conan: Crown of Iron, with the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) executive producing. Fully accepting the star’s advancing years (he will be 55 at the end of July), the story, says Milius, will be “Lear-like, and will see Conan passing on the sword to his son.” That role would have been played by The Rock if he hadn’t done The Scorpion King, so now Vin Diesel is apparently hot favourite.

But the most interesting part of the announcement is the fact that the Big Man will also star in a remake of the 1973 sci-fi classic Westworld. Schwarzenegger will play the role originally taken by Yul Brynner, whose flagging career was given fresh impetus by his portrayal of a steely-eyed robot gunslinger who goes haywire in the futuristic theme park of the film’s title - a comeback story that may well not be lost on Schwarzenegger, whose last bona fide hit was Batman and Robin.
Westworld, in case you’ve forgotten, is about a holiday paradise in which tourists get to have gun battles with very realistic robots who always lose out to the greenhorns… until, of course, the inevitable happens and the robots begin to shoot back.

The film is currently on a fast-track at Warner Bros, who expect to make it as soon as Arnie has put an end to The Rise of the Machines. That project, incidentally, has put, if not an end to, then a severe crimp in the career of young actress Sophia Bush. Bush was hired to play the role of the girlfriend of young John Conner, the kid from the first two movies who is now in his 20s and played by Nick Stahl. But she apparently looked too young for the part and was replaced three weeks into shooting by Claire Danes.

Oh, and there’s another Schwarzenproject I’ve alluded to off and on over the years: the new version of Richard Mathieson’s futuristic vampire classic, I Am Legend, in which he was hoping to star, with Ridley Scott perhaps directing. Well that, too, will now be part of the star’s new deal with Warners.
But Arnie has backed off from playing the lead role; instead, he will produce with Michael Bay directing and Will Smith currently being courted to star. To which, as a passionate fan of the original book, I can only add: ‘Now we’re cooking!’

Published July 25, 2002

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