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Scorsese-Spielberg Match Called Off

Movies* Each had a project with Leonardo DiCaprio set for Dec. 25, but Miramax rescheduled to avoid rivalry.


The celebrity death match pitting the lightweight Leonardo DiCaprio against the heavyweight Leonardo DiCaprio has been called off.

Miramax has decided to move Martin Scorsese's costly and long-in-the-making epic "Gangs of New York," which features DiCaprio in a central role, from Dec. 25 to an earlier date in December that had not been determined by midday Thursday. That means Scorsese's gritty tale of gang warfare in 19th century Manhattan will not go head-to-head with Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me if You Can," a holiday confection that also stars DiCaprio.

"There are challenges to having the two films on the same date," Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said. "Whatever the eventual date will be, we're extremely confident in the film. This is one of the great times of the year to release the film, and there's plenty of opportunity for this and other quality projects to perform well."

At DreamWorks, Miramax's decision brought relief after months of tension over the clashing dates. "We didn't like having to share Leo's audience with that movie, and we also didn't think it was seemly to have two of America's greatest directors square off against each other," DreamWorks executive Walter Parkes said.

Indeed, the two directors have a long and complicated friendship. Their vastly different styles are on display in these two films, which feature dramatically different DiCaprios. In "Gangs," he is bulked up to play a grubby street fighter. He is trimmed down and squeaky clean for his turn in "Catch Me if You Can" as an early-'60s teenage con artist who poses as a pilot, doctor and lawyer.

The holiday season is packed with high-profile movies, and finding a new date for "Gangs" could prove difficult. On Dec. 6, Warner Bros. releases "Analyze That," the sequel to its hit comedy with Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro. The following weekend, Paramount launches the latest installment of "Star Trek." And on the 18th, New Line will open "The Two Towers," the second episode in its "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Many in the industry are wondering how Miramax can handle its extraordinary number of films set for holiday release. Aside from "Gangs," a few films have generated early buzz. "Chicago," a musical starring Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere, already is being mentioned as an Oscar contender. Other Miramax openings include "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," directed by George Clooney; Roberto Benigni's "Pinocchio"; and "The Quiet American," a Philip Noyce-directed drama.

Industry executives said head-to-head competition between "Gangs of New York" and "Catch Me if You Can" wouldn't have been good for either project. But most believed that the underdog in such a contest would have been Miramax's "Gangs," with its violence and length--approaching two hours and 40 minutes. And the stakes are high. The picture has a budget substantially in excess of $100 million, making it by far the most expensive film Miramax has made. It's arriving a year late.

DreamWorks' "Catch Me if You Can" cost about half as much, and Spielberg shot it in 55 days. At about two hours, it is shorter than "Gangs" and considerably sweeter. And it pairs Spielberg with Tom Hanks, one of the most bankable stars. Finally, there's DiCaprio, looking much as he did when he made legions of female fans swoon in "Titanic."

"Gangs of New York" doesn't lack star power. Along with DiCaprio, it has Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis, whose performance may put him in Oscar contention. But the characters have an eccentric period look, and they are coated with meticulously re-created 19th century grime. As one producer observed, "Nobody's cute in 'Gangs of New York.' "

Miramax spokesman Hiltzik says early tracking shows that "Gangs" will appeal to a broad audience. "An action film with romance starring Leo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Martin Scorsese with music by U2, has tremendous, widespread appeal," he says. Research shows that the potential audience has an exceptionally high awareness of the film before Miramax has run the first ad for it.

Tom Sherak, a partner at Revolution Studios, thinks "Gangs" can perform strongly, especially now that it has been moved. "It looks like something that I want to see," he says. "It has a cachet to it." But he expects that the picture, with its dark themes and violence, will appeal primarily to big-city audiences, and that would limit the box office potential to about $100 million, he says. "It can't do as much business as a picture that plays everywhere," he predicts.

"Catch Me if You Can," on the other hand, looks like a film with appeal in the heartland as well as in urban areas. "If a movie is going to work big, it works from the middle [of the country] out," Sherak says.

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