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SCRIPTLAND: 'Departed' sequel in the works

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The elegiac title and murderous conclusion of "The Departed" may have signaled a brutal, blood-red finality, but in Hollywood any potential franchise can be revived by a strong-enough dose of green.

"The Departed" is by far director Martin Scorsese's biggest hit, with a gross of more than $260 million worldwide — a number bound to escalate if the intricate thriller wins an Oscar next month for best picture (one of its five Academy Award nominations). And so sources close to the film say that screenwriter William Monahan, who also received a nod for his "Departed" screenplay last week, has begun working out a potential take that would extend a connected story line and involve some of the same characters.

Of course, given the slaughter that terminates "The Departed," there aren't a whole lot of characters left to pursue.

This is the same dilemma faced by the creators of "Infernal Affairs," the popular 2002 Hong Kong thriller written by Alan Mak and Felix Chong upon which Monahan's "Departed" script was based. Mak, Chong and co-director Andrew Lau got around it by making their follow-up a prequel, thus allowing the first film's stars to reprise their roles. (Mak, Chong and Lau made a third in the series that split its story around the events of the first film.)

According to the sources, Monahan is not taking the prequel route and is instead developing a wholly original continuation of the story. Best supporting actor nominee Mark Wahlberg recently told MTV that the filmmakers have discussed bringing in Scorsese's classic gangster muse Robert De Niro to play a role. That said, it's unclear how involved Scorsese is at this point, or whether he would take part in any sequel.

If he did, it would be a first. The Oscar-nominated director has never revisited any of his films. (His 1974 drama "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" spawned the diner sitcom "Alice," though he had nothing to do with it.) Scorsese did make "The Color of Money," a sequel to Robert Rossen's "The Hustler," back in 1986. Monahan, who sources say began thinking of ways to continue the Boston cops-and-gangsters saga back in 2005 when production wrapped, recently tread further into sequel territory with a draft of "Jurassic Park IV."

Warner Bros., which released "The Departed," had no comment. It's just as well. In the vicious world of "The Departed," one's true motives are best kept hidden.

Harold and Kumar go to ShreveportJon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg's "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" is a classic example of how a mini-franchise can arise from the ashes of a theatrical bust in a glorious phoenix-like burst of DVD sales.

The stoner comedy about a wild Indian American (Kal Penn) and his studious Korean American buddy (John Cho) in search of a very particular hamburger while marvelously high grossed just $18 million in theaters in the summer of 2004. But it developed a huge cult following (and more than $30 million in extra revenue) on DVD, which is precisely the prediction Hurwitz and Schlossberg made to New Line when trying to sell them on their wacky script.

The writers were still in college when "Office Space" came out in early 1999, and they saw how their DVD-hungry generation elevated it to cult status and healthy secondary returns from an $11-million theatrical bomb. They felt that their screenplay for "Harold & Kumar," with its relatably goofball characters and absurd, puerile gags, was precisely the type of film that would tap into this business model.

When that calculation paid off, the creators essentially heard the film's fans saying, in the manner of one very scrambled Harold: I want that feeling. The feeling that comes over a man when he gets exactly what he desires. Thus, the continuing adventures of Harold and Kumar.

Last week, Hurwitz and Schlossberg headed for Shreveport, La., to start principal photography on the $10-million sequel, their as-yet-untitled directorial debut. (Their DVD-sales argument almost worked against them this time around: New Line originally tried to persuade them to write and direct a straight-to-DVD sequel.)

The sequel was initially designed around a frenzied trip to Amsterdam, until the studio broke out its secret NORAD metrics and informed the writers that Americans-in-Europe comedies are typically a disappointment. So Hurwitz and Schlossberg instead parade their calamitous protagonists through the post-9/11 Deep South, where their ethnicities make them even more suspect than their marijuana abuse.

When the film opens, things go from baked to worse when Kumar smuggles his bong onboard a flight headed to Amsterdam. Chaos ensues when the bathroom door swings open to reveal the dark-skinned Kumar lighting an assembled device that he says is a "bong" (everyone else hears "bomb"). The plane is grounded, and the pair soon find themselves escaping from a secret government prison and going on the run in the American South.

"Harold and Kumar, the guys that we know and love, start off on a journey thinking that they're in a movie like 'Eurotrip,' " Hurwitz says. "And they find themselves in 'The Fugitive.' "

Along the way, fans can look forward to a love interest for Kumar, flashbacks to the boys in their pre-pot college days, and a cast that includes former "Daily Show" correspondents Rob Corddry and Ed Helms, "SNL" regular Andy Samberg, and Neil Patrick Harris, who once again pokes fun at himself as a loopy anti-Doogie Howser horndog. Like the first film's blunt acknowledgment of racial issues and stereotypes, this film includes a sprinkling of post-Patriot Act allusions, though Hurwitz and Schlossberg insist the story is not anti-government or anti-War on Terrorism.

"These two guys view themselves as great Americans, they're passionate about America, they're good citizens," Hurwitz says. "And because of a mistake and because of their ethnicities they end up in a situation that two American residents should never be in."

While the first movie's overtly Jewish Rosenberg and Goldstein characters would seem to be the writers' obvious self-mocking alter egos, it's actually the central Asian American leads, on culturally pre-ordained career paths into finance and medicine, that most embody the screenwriters' spiritual doubles. (When the New Jersey natives and high school friends sold their first script, "Filthy," just before graduating college in 2000, Hurwitz was desperately trying to avoid Wall Street and Schlossberg was dreading law school.)

"It was more for us," Hurwitz says of writing the first "Harold & Kumar" script.

"We didn't think anyone else would think it was commercial, but we believed that if you write realistic characters, characters that you can connect with, and the comedy is there, that people can get behind it. We had so much fun that we feel like we could write Harold and Kumar movies for years."

Whether they do or not, Harold and Kumar would be the first to acknowledge that, in the end, the universe tends to unfold as it should.

Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. For tips and comments, e-mail fernandez_jay@hotmail.com.

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