CASTING Who’s the rapper who’s the sidekick to the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Busta Rhymes! Can you dig it? Rhymes will play Samuel L. Jackson’s right-hand man, Rasaan, in the remake of ”Shaft”…. John Turturro will play a social-skill-less chess pro who falls in love with Emily Watson in 1930s Italy in ”The Luzhin Defense,” based on Vladimir Nabokov’s novel…. Oliver Platt (”Lake Placid”) may be heading to TV, playing a crime-solving newspaperman in a new series created by ”Law & Order” guru Dick Wolf…. Mira Sorvino will re-create Daisy Buchanan in A&E’s upcoming adaptation of ”The Great Gatsby.”
SCHEDULE SHUFFLE Mutant-lovin’ moviegoers will be getting their Christmas present five months early next year: Fox has moved the release date of ”X-Men” up from when it was originally scheduled — December 2000 — to sometime in July, to fill up the summer-blockbuster slot left open when the studio postponed Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg’s ”Minority Report.”
LAWSUIT Muhammad Ali has filed a suit to nullify a contract he signed in 1988 that gave his former lawyer and manager 40 percent interest in any revenue generated from the boxer’s life story, including the biopic that Columbia is developing for Will Smith with Ali’s cooperation, according to the Associated Press. Ali claims he was paid nothing to sign away the percentage, and that the two men, who went on to form Muhammad Ali Productions, got him to approve the deal when he was weak from treatment for his Parkinson’s disease. A lawyer for the defendants said that Ali ”knew exactly what he was doing” when he signed, and that he got a fair deal.
BACKING OUT Perhaps Bruce Willis just wants to take some time alone with his ”Sixth Sense” cash. Whatever the reason, he has dropped out of what was going to be his next movie, the crime thriller ”Ace in the Hole.”
COMEDY PAYDAYS Two comic minds have been harnessed by TV deals: The ”Bob” half of ”Mr. Show With Bob and David,” Bob Odenkirk, signed a seven-figure development deal with HBO, and NBC is working with David Alan Grier to build a new sitcom for him for the 2000-01 season. Forget ”Damon” and ”The Preston Episodes” the NEXT millennium is all Grier’s.
BANKRUPT Cashwise, Gary Coleman has come up a bit short. The 31-year-old has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, claiming that lawsuits, medical bills for his liver disease, and his lack of success in a post-”Diff’rent Strokes” acting career have led to his financial dissolution. ”Absolutely everything was tried and done before what I always felt would be an eventuality [the bankruptcy filing],” he told reporters outside a Los Angeles courthouse, according to the Associated Press. Coleman is still facing a million-dollar lawsuit from a woman who claims he assaulted her when she asked for an autograph, and although he denied that the suit is what made him file Chapter 7, he did acknowledge that his move may protect him from liability.
POSTMORTEM Paula Yates, the fiancée of the late INXS singer Michael Hutchence, is not dealing with his November 1997 death in a quiet way. Yates was interviewed for a recent British documentary in which she said that Hutchence was not trying to commit suicide when he hanged himself, but rather he accidentally died in the midst of autoerotic asphyxiation. (Kind of a back-handed way to stick up for him, no?) She also told OK! magazine that not only is British singer Terence Trent D’Arby going to be the new frontman for INXS but that she had had a yearlong love affair with him, according to MTV News. Then came the denials: Hutchence’s father disputed her asphyxiation theory, and D’Arby, who did appear with INXS at a short show in June, said he was not joining the band.
RESURFACED Newsman Forrest Sawyer, who left ABC News earlier this year, has been scooped up by NBC. Sawyer left ABC when it tried to cut his $2 million salary, and he will be making only mid-six-figures at his new home, according to the Hollywood Reporter. But he may soon be able to return to his old standard of living since he’s also contracted to do work for the Discovery Channel. At NBC, he’ll be filling in on various shows like MSNBC’s ”The News With Brian Williams.”
OBITUARY Brion James, a B-movie villain staple who also appeared in such studio fare as ”The Player,” ”The Fifth Element,” and ”Blade Runner,” died of a heart attack at the age of 54. As much as his legacy involves his more than 100 movie roles, James may be remembered best among his peers for his work seeking out young Hollywood actors with drug problems and helping them kick their addictions.