Columbia's upcoming production of Damon Wayans' "Blankman" is a super-hero spoof that may begin filming in July. But it's not to be confused with MGM's "The Meteor Man."
"Blankman" and "The Meteor Man" have been described by readers and development executives in recent months as sharing the same hero-in-the-'hood hook with minor variations.
"The Meteor Man," an adventure comedy about a Washington elementary school teacher who gets hit by a flying meteor and becomes imbued with magical powers, was filmed last spring by writer-director-star Robert Townsend. Originally slated to open in late June, MGM has bumped "Meteor's" debut to Aug. 25. Townsend says his film "mixes magic in with real values and what's going on now in the cities. It's a fantasy with a moral value. The time is ripe for a black super-hero."
Screenwriter Jonathan Lawton, who recently retooled the "Blankman" script, describes it as "a comedy about an innocent guy who believes he's a super-hero, and his cynical brother who doesn't believe in anything--it's about faith, basically."
Once projected by Columbia sources as a possible November or December release, "Blankman's" start date has been delayed due to problems with the script, which Wayans originally wrote. An inside observer says that while "it was always very funny," the story wasn't panning out due to the "comic book" approach favored by directors Reginald and Warrington Hudlin ("Boomerang," "House Party"), who signed on with the project earlier this year.
The Hudlins "wanted to emphasize the broader, super-hero aspects of the story," adds Lawton, while Wayans "always wanted it to be a story about two brothers." In early March, Columbia hired Lawton to do a four-week rewrite. Lawton signed on only after running into delays on "The Adventures of Fartman," the Howard Stern comedy for New Line Cinema that he wrote and had planned to direct in May. (New Line and Stern have clashed over whether the raunchy comedy will be PG-13 or R-rated, as well as overStern's refusal to share merchandising revenues.)
The Lawton-Wayans rewrite led to the Hudlins' recent departure from the project. Reginald Hudlin declines to specify the differences behind the "Blankman" split, except to declare that he and his brother "just didn't want to do what Damon wanted to do. But we'll make a movie together some day. We're still hangin' out."
Complicating the "Blankman" odyssey was Wayans' interest in the lead role in Hollywood Pictures' "Good News, Bad News," a comedy about a nightclub comic who is kidnaped by terrorists, set to film in September under producer David Permut. When it became clear that "Blankman" might be indefinitely stalled, Wayans began negotiations with Permut on "Good News" but without locking himself in.
"He had the option to do 'Blankman' first," says Permut. "It wasn't pay-or-play." But Wayans became newly excited about "Blankman" soon after the last rewrite and bailed out of "Good News." "Disney executives got very upset," a source relates. "There were a lot of threats." After the Wayans defection, Hollywood Pictures tried to sign Martin Lawrence (star of Fox's half-hour comedy series "Martin"), but the effort failed.
Columbia's executive vice president of production, Teddy Zee, who has been supervising "Blankman," declined comment for this article. Hollywood's directors of creative affairs, Scott Immergut and Jay Stern, who've been watching over "Good News," did the same. Wayans' manager, Eric Gold, also declined comment.
Columbia executives are finalizing negotiations with Michael Binder ("Indian Summer") to be the new "Blankman" director, according to a source. Ironically, Binder is contractually bound to direct his next film for Disney and can't accept Columbia's offer unless Disney lets him out.
Columbia is eager to capitalize on Wayans' celebrity after having backed his 1991 hit, "Mo' Money," a $10-million movie that other studios passed on but nonetheless grossed roughly $42 million.
Lawton says that Wayans "isn't that concerned" about the "Meteor Man" parallels. "There's a lot of real ghetto stuff about drugs and gangs" in the Townsend film, he says, and "our film is more of a metaphor, a story rather than a reflection." Besides, he adds, the Wayans character in "Blankman" "has no super-powers."
Another difference between "Blankman" and "Meteor Man" is in the super-hero get-ups. "Daman's costume looks stupid, hand-sewn, and nerdy looking," Lawton comments, "but Townsend's looks Superman-slick, with shiny boots and padded muscles."