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The Good Fights

That David Fincher's reputedly ultraviolent Fight Club has been Buffied (postponed by distributor Fox till the fall) is one sign that Hollywood may be on the lookout for safe, Littleton-proof violence. Until the political storm around the film industry settles, it looks like filmmakers and audiences will be reacquainting themselves with more traditional brutalities such as warfare and assorted violent sports.

In Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg mastered the formula for all-American gore by embedding the carnage within the moral certainties of WW II. Now the trick for filmmakers is finding another "Good War," not an easy task given America's checkered military history made up of stalemates and losses, feel-good warmongering, Pyrrhic victories, and open sores. What's left? How about the Revolutionary War, as morally sound as WW II but with femmier uniforms and hairstyles? Mel Gibson is set to begin shooting The Patriot, a big-budget epic about a farmer-turned­Revolutionary soldier, scripted by Ryan screenwriter Robert Rodat. To offset the likely solemnity of this feature, Ben Stiller will be directing a Revolutionary-era comedy tentatively entitled The Making of the President, 1789. The film, to star John Cleese, will focus on the gambling, drinking, and military incompetence of General Washington, driven by the thesis that the Founding Father "continually failed upward."

Football has proven a time-honored pay-for-violence tradition that will likely fly beneath the radar of post-Littleton alarmists, and the box-office success of The Waterboy and Varsity Blues sent gridiron scripts bounding through Hollywood like so many intoxicated fans. Warners has two football movies on its slate, Oliver Stone's star-studded Any Given Sunday (due in November) and then a Keanu Reeves vehicle called The Replacements, about scab jocks who served as makeshift Washington Redskins back in 1987. Disney is also developing Remember the Titans, a drama about the integration of a high school football team.

Then there's that connoisseur's blood sport, boxing. Along with Play It to the Bone, which stars Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson as struggling welterweights, there's also the Jimmy Smits father-son bonding movie, The Price of Glory. Among the biopics underway are Sonny Liston's (with Ving Rhames), Muhammad Ali's (starring Will Smith), and Lazarus and the Hurricane, about Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, which will also feature the more prosaic brutalities of the justice system.

 
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