Cruising to Year 2000: Paramount Pictures has announced it's pushing back the release date of its big Tom Cruise action sequel, "Mission: Impossible 2," from Dec. 17 to Memorial Day, to allow director John Woo more time for post-production. The film has been in production in Australia about 100 days and is not expected to wrap before the end of next month. Robert Friedman, vice chairman of Paramount's Motion Picture Group, hopes the new release date of May 24, the Wednesday before Memorial Day, proves as lucky for the sequel as the original, which opened over the 1996 Memorial Day weekend and went on to gross $181 million in North America. Cruise, though, may be going head to head with himself. He's also set to star in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi film "Minority Report," which 20th Century Fox has scheduled for a June 30 release.


Critics Condemn Censorship: Several members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.--including The Times' Kenneth Turan and Kevin Thomas and Variety's Todd McCarthy--have issued a statement condemning the decision by Warner Bros. to release a censored version of Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" in America. The decision to "digitally alter" the movie to secure an R rating "once again proves the deeply chilling effect the ratings system is having on creative expression in film. By censoring 'Eyes Wide Shut,' Warner Bros. and the MPAA have acted as if Stanley Kubrick made a pornographic movie. He did not."


Backstreet Back to No. 1: The Backstreet Boys have recaptured the top spot on the nation's album charts this week by selling 272,000 copies of their sophomore collection, "Millennium." Last week's leader, "Significant Other" by Limp Bizkit, slid to No. 2 with 238,000 sold. The top album debut of the week belonged to veteran rapper Too $hort's "Can't Stay Away," which opened at No. 6, while the No. 1 spot on the singles chart belonged to teen pop singer Christina Aguilera with "Genie in a Bottle."


"Friends" Forever: None of the principals are talking, but NBC is apparently bearing down in negotiations to keep its No 1. sitcom "Friends" at the network through mid-2002. A report in Daily Variety Wednesday said NBC was ready to shell out $5 million per episode (nearly $220 million over two years) to Warner Bros., the studio that produces the show. The price tag puts "Friends" in the company of "Seinfeld," which reportedly cost NBC $5.5 million per episode to rent its final season on the air.


As expected, David Milch, the Emmy-winning co-creator and executive producer of "NYPD Blue," has signed a deal to develop new TV series through Paramount Network Television. The studio has been aggressively pursuing relationships with such well-known drama producers, recently signing a similar agreement with Milch's longtime collaborator, Steven Bochco. . . . Former vice president and possible presidential candidate Dan Quayle will be a guest tonight on NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." . . . Brian Cox will appear in "St. Nicholas," Conor McPherson's ("The Weir") London and New York hit monologue about a vitriolic critic, at the Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood from July 31-Aug. 8. The opening night is a benefit for the theater. . . . Dan Castellaneta's one-man show, "Where Did Vincent Van Gogh?," has been extended through Sept. 29 at the Acme Comedy Theatre in Los Angeles. Castellaneta, best known as the voice of Homer Simpson, performs every Wednesday.

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