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A look inside Hollywood and the movies incorporating Outtakes, Cinefile and Production Chart. : WORKS IN (MUCH) PROGRESS : So, You Take a Little Quirky, Mix In a Lot of Money and <i> POOF!</i> . . . ‘Innovative’??

What do you get when you mix the director and writer of the quirky little black comedy “Heathers” with big-spending, action-adventure producer Joel Silver and actor Bruce Willis? The answer is “Hudson Hawk,” an oddball caper comedy masquerading as an action-adventure movie. And so far, at least, test audiences don’t quite know what to make of it.

At a recent research screening in Long Beach, the Tri-Star film elicited poor ratings, according to sources close to the project. Since then, director Michael Lehmann has recut the movie--moving it more in the direction of his own vision, rather than following the earlier dictates of Silver and Willis, according to sources--and test scores have improved.

Still, Tri-Star’s marketing team faces a gigantic hurdle in communicating to audiences that while “Hudson Hawk” is a Silver production laden with special effects and Willis’ action exploits, they should expect something more like “Naked Gun” than “Die Hard.” (Dan Waters, who wrote “Heathers,” rewrote a screenplay by Stephen de Souza of “Die Hard” fame; the original idea came from Willis.)

The film has had troubles from the beginning. A general strike in Budapest and bureaucratic tangles in Italy--including the Vatican’s refusal to let the crew film there--caused unexpected delays.

Back in L.A., the tabloids went wild with unfounded reports that Willis’ wife, Demi Moore, had insisted that lead actress Maruschka Detmers be replaced. In fact, sources close to the film said, Detmers’ back problems forced the producers to substitute Andie MacDowell.

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However, rumors that Silver and Willis, who co-produced the film, repeatedly tried to steamroll the younger and less experienced Lehmann were pretty much on target, as the director subsequently acknowledged in published reports.

The industry trade paper Variety estimated that the film, originally budgeted at about $40 million, went at least $15 million over budget. Tri-Star officials are mum on the cost, but one source close to the project estimates that the film will cost a hair under $50 million.

Reached at his office last week, Lehmann declined comment on the film except to say this: “I hope no one loses sight that this is an innovative kind of movie. If that gets lost in all the controversy, it will be a shame.”


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