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Hot Projects: Zeta-Jones and Douglas make a movie

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Jul 26, 2001 | 12:00pm EDT

It was bound to happen. Hot off her box-office hit America's Sweethearts, Catherine Zeta-Jones is set to begin work this fall on a new project with none other than hubby Michael Douglas. The project, slated for release in 2002, will be the first time moviegoers will get to see the real-life couple together on the big screen.

Though the two appeared in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, they had no scenes together, so it will be interesting to watch the chemistry between them. It will be even more interesting to see whether the film does well or flops like so many other husband-and-wife pics do. Remember Far and Away with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman?

The Douglas/Zeta-Jones vehicle will be the Miramax period thriller Smoke and Mirrors, a story loosely based on the life of French illusionist Jean-Robert-Houdin who, with his lovely female cohort, was sent to Algeria in 1856 by Napoleon III to expose a religious sorcerer who was inciting attacks on French colonials. Douglas will play Houdin, the man considered to be the father of modern magic, and Zeta-Jones will play Collette, his young assistant and lover.

But Smoke and Mirrors will be more than just the first collaboration between husband and wife; it would also be a first for Douglas and his father, Kirk Douglas. Papa Douglas will make a cameo appearance as Bou-Allem, but details of the role are still sketchy.

Keeping it all in the family, Variety columnist Army Archerd reported in April that Michael's older brother Joel Douglas, who's producing Smoke and Mirrors along with Zeta-Jones' brother David Jones, was heading out to exotic Morocco, Tunisia and Israel to scout locations for the film. Also sharing producer credits will be Joel's future brother-in-law Kevin Brodie (A Dog of Flanders).

It seems the only kin left out of the negotiations is baby Dylan.

The original script, which was penned by Batman Forever writing team Lee and Janet Scott Batchler almost seven years ago, caught the attention of several studio honchos, including Steven Spielberg, who bid on the script. Disney's Cinergi Pictures ended up buying the screenplay at a $1 million gavel price.

Several big names have since been attached to the picture, including Aussie Mel Gibson and ex-secret agent Sean Connery. But like many projects in development, plans fell through and deals were never inked. Too bad--the resemblance between Connery and the real Houdin is uncanny.

As for a director, producer Frank Marshall (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Sixth Sense) was originally set to direct, but had to pass because he was under contract by Paramount to direct the jungle adventure flick Congo.

Plagued with casting problems, the project was eventually shelved until last year, when Initial Entertainment Group (where Zeta-Jones' brother David happens to be vice president) acquired Smoke and Mirrors from Cinergi Pictures for an undisclosed price. The script was dusted off and rewritten by Leslie Dixon (Pay it Forward), and it seems that the little screenplay that never was made the leap out of development.

With a fresh script and new funding, director John McTiernan was recruited to direct the magical thriller. However, McTiernan bailed on the Smoke and Mirrors project last month, citing "insurmountable business differences."

Both Miramax and IEG declined to comment on the falling out, and there's still no word on who will direct the picture.

Regardless of who directs, the star power alone is sure to draw a crowd. People have been waiting for a Douglas father and son pairing for quite some time. And if the Zeta-Jones/Douglas marriage survives the pressures of Hollywood from now until the film's release date, fans will undoubtedly want to see them on screen.

Looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones will get to find out first hand the pressure her character Gwen faces in America's Sweethearts. Will this be a case of life imitating art imitating life? Stay tuned!

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