Rumors no more ... "The Mask of Zorro" star Antonio Banderas is definitely the odds-on finalist to don the disguise in a new film version of "The Phantom of the Opera" ... and, yes, Mike Myers will earn his first $20 million paycheck for Universal/Imagine's "Sprocket," based on the German movie critic and talk-show host character Dieter from the old "Saturday Night Live" sketches.
Both names had been attached to the projects, but their involvement is now close to a done deal. Reuters reports that "Phantom" director Shekhar Kapur is currently on the prowl to find a "stunning girl" to play opposite Banderas. The Hollywood Reporter reports that the "Sprockets" script by Myers and Michael McCullers begins shooting this summer.
No start date has been set for "Phantom," and a director has yet to be named for "Sprockets." Imagine's Brian Grazer will produce the latter, which is set for release in early 2001.
THE INCREDIBLE 'SHRINKING' EDDIE: "Dr. Doolittle." "The Nutty Professor." And now "The Incredible Shrinking Man." Eddie Murphy is quickly becoming Hollywood's go-to guy when it comes to remaking family-friendly fare. (And to think he shot to fame as a potty mouth in "48 Hours" and "Beverly Hills Cop")
Universal/Imagine's liked his '90s makeover in "Life," "Bowfinger" and the upcoming sequel "Nutty 2: The Klumps." They'll hope to continue the streak with the new version of "Shrinking." Murphy's committed to the project, in which he'll play a guy who shrinks after being exposed to a weird mist.
The project's set to begin after the comedian finishes Castle Rock's "Pluto Nash," which starts shooting next month.
BLANCHETT 'LIVES' FOR ACTION-THRILLER: Maybe it just wasn't the right FBI agent role (or maybe it was the whole cannibal thing) ... whatever the reasons, actress Cate Blanchett is in negotiations to play a character that sounds awfully familiar. In director Tony Scott's "Taking Lives," set to start shooting this summer, she's a female FBI profiler tracking down a serial killer who assumes the identities of his victims.
That assignment comes after the Oscar nominee passed on picking up where Jodie Foster left off in the upcoming "Hannibal," the sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs."
Blanchett's not the only A-lister who expressed interest in the "Lives" script, written by Jon Bokenkamp and based on a book by Brit Michael Pye. Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow is also a potential lead.
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 9, 2000 -- Watch out, "Charlie's Angels." Here come "Josie and the Pussycats."
According to today's Hollywood Reporter, Rachael Leigh Cook, the pan-wielding grrl from those get-tough "Just Say No" ads, has signed on to play the title character in a live-action "Josie" film.
As announced last year, "Can't Hardly Wait's" Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan will direct.
The Universal picture is scheduled to begin shooting this summer. Marc Platt and Riverdale Prods., which own the rights to the toon, are the producers. Mogul Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and wife Tracey are in talks to provide the music through their Edmonds Entertainment.
For those not up on their schlocky cartoon history, "Josie and the Pussycats," inspired by the 1960s-era comic book, was originally produced for Saturday morning purposes from 1970-72. Cousins to "The Archies," the Pussycats were a bubblegum precursor of, say, the Go-Gos. Their all-girl band lineup consisted of Melody, Valerie and, yes, Josie. (A pre-"Charlie's Angels" Cheryl Ladd provided Melody's singing voice.) In 1972, the Pussycats were blasted into orbit -- hence the title of their next (and, alas, final) TV toon: "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space" (1972-74).
Cook, 20, is best known for her star turn in last year's surprise hit "She's All That".
HUNGRY FOR A SCOOBY SNACK? In other movie-toon news, the word from the New York Daily News is that Jennifer Love Hewitt could be up for the shagadelic role of Daphne in Mike Myers' planned live-action version of the canine cartoon "Scooby Doo."
KLEIN LACES UP FOR 'BALL': "American Pie" star Chris Klein is set to show off his skating skills in a remake of the 1970s cult hit "Rollerball." The Reporter notes that Klein is in final negotiations to star in the John McTiernan-helmed sci-fi actioner. The MGM/UA production could be the studio's major release for 2001.
Klein takes over a role originated by James Caan in 1975. The original futuristic pic, directed by Norman Jewison, featured Caan as the veteran star of a sport where groups of warriors in roller skates and on motorcycles battled to the death for corporate sponsors.
No word on the changes in scripter John Pogue's ("The Skulls") latest draft, but sources report that Jewison could be involved in bringing the new version to the screen.
IN 'MOTION': Reese Witherspoon, a Golden Globe nominee for her sharp work in the hilarious "Election," switches gears as the producer and star of the drama "Slow Motion." The Reporter notes that Witherspoon is set to work on the Sony-based Phoenix Pictures production, which is based on Dani Shapiro's 1992 novel "Playing With Fire."
The film's about a college student who is seduced by her roommate's father. According to the Reporter, it's a story about an "abusive relationship between two people blinded by love."
GOING TO 'TOWNIES'? Director Mike Figgis and Brad Pitt might be heading downtown on the project "Urban Townies." The Reporter has the filmmaker scheduled to meet with Pitt about the film, which the actor has been considering for a while.
The drama, produced by Barry Levinson and Paula Weinstein, has to do with a man from the Midwest who returns to New York City to find his old girlfriend involved with his best friend.