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Geena Davis quits ''Mistress of the Seas''

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Mistress of the Seas hasn’t even left the dock, and already there’s a woman overboard. Geena Davis, the star of Columbia’s big-budget female pirate saga, has jumped ship, taking the wind out of a swashbuckler that was being touted as one of Christmas ’94’s big-ticket attractions.

Davis’ departure is the latest squall in this high-seas drama, which chronicles the adventures of real-life 18th-century buccaneer Anne Bonny. The first ripple came three weeks ago when director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct) abruptly exited the project. The studio called his farewell the result of ”creative differences,” insisting that Verhoeven’s sensual vision of pirate Anne Bonny wasn’t what it had ordered. ”What he had in mind was a sex film that, oh, by the way, had a couple of ships in it,” said an insider close to the project. ”If Columbia wanted to make that movie, they’d have hired Sharon Stone.”

No sooner had Verhoeven gone ashore than reports circulated that director Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger) might climb aboard and work with Davis, who happens to be his fiancée. But in a sea change no one saw coming, Columbia announced on July 22 that Verhoeven was back on deck; late that night, Davis’ spokeswoman announced the actress had bailed out.

Just why she abandoned ship remains a mystery, but there’s plenty of insider conjecture that Davis was miffed about Columbia’s wooing her fiance, then setting him adrift. There’s also speculation that she didn’t agree with script changes made by Columbia and Verhoeven after they kissed and made up. ”It’s too bad — she’s missing out on a great role,” says Verhoeven, who describes his falling-out with the studio as ”kind of like this fight where we both started swinging and got knocked out. Later, we asked ourselves, ‘Why?”’

Actually, the retooled film seems to incorporate most of the changes Columbia had wanted Verhoeven to make. After Last Action Hero, says Verhoeven, the studio was nervous about funding another big-budget action pic, particularly one starring a woman. To lessen the risk, Columbia wanted to beef up the part of Bonny’s male matey, especially after Harrison Ford expressed interest.

The new pirate saga includes the following alterations:

· Seas will no longer focus on female derring-do but on a love triangle between Bonny and two male pirates. Ford is still a contender for one of the roles. ”It’s a nice compromise,” says Verhoeven, who likens Bonny to Scarlett O’Hara — ”only she’s on the ocean, struggling between her love for two suitors.”

· First estimated at $65 million, the movie’s budget will top off ”around the high 40s,” according to producer Jon Peters. To save money, the production will modify existing ships — possibly those used in Mel Gibson‘s 1984 movie The Bounty — rather than build them from scratch as previously planned.

· The sexual tone remains under wraps, but Verhoeven has a contract to deliver an R-rated movie, which he says will go ”as far as it can,” but maybe not as far as he once intended.

With shooting set to begin in the Caribbean next spring, who will step into Bonny’s breeches? Candidates are said to include Jodie Foster; Michelle Pfeiffer, who reportedly is eager for the part; Laura Dern, who has the $271 million Jurassic Park to her credit; and, yes, even Sharon Stone, who has a history with Verhoeven (he directed her in last year’s revealing Basic Instinct and 1990’s Total Recall). An insider says an actress could be named as quickly as this week — and doesn’t rule out the possibility that Davis could climb back aboard. As for Ford, says Verhoeven, ”we’ve postponed talks while some script changes are made.”

Davis, meanwhile, is still contemplating sailing into the sunset with Harlin. ”From what I understand, she’s decided she wants to make a movie with her future hubby,” says a source. According to the Hollywood buzz, one possible Davis-Harlin venture is a sequel to 1986’s The Fly, which starred Davis and then-future husband Jeff Goldblum. How’s that for a new ripple?

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