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Kevin Costner wages war with Universal

Plus, Reese Witherspoon, John Woo, Nicolas Cage, Janet Jackson, Jodie Foster, and more

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BITTER, BITTER Man, if Kevin Costner doesn’t get at least three hours of screen time, he sure gets cranky. He’s engaged in a public battle of words with Universal over the studio’s trimming of ”For Love of the Game,” which included nipping his nude scene and some profanity, and cutting the running time. ”For Universal, this movie has always been about the length and the rating,” Costner told Newsweek. ”It’s never been about the content. And you feel a studio would want to release the best version of the movie, not the one they think appeals to the biggest common denominator.” As for Universal, which has been through the Costner mill before with ”Waterworld,” cochairman Stacey Snider told the L.A. Times, ”I realize this is very much about principle for Kevin, but principle doesn’t mean that you never compromise. Our feeling is that we have backed the filmmaker, and his name is [director] Sam Raimi, not Kevin Costner.” While Costner did some initial press for the film, he has now reportedly backed out of a few talk-show appearances meant to promote ”Game.” ”The studio and I don’t even talk. They don’t want to talk to me,” he told Newsweek. ”I’ll never forgive or forget what they’ve done.”

BIRTHS And a new teen star is born: Reese Witherspoon, 23, and Ryan Phillippe, 25, welcomed a new daughter on Sept. 9. No name was announced yet, but we bet that won’t stop Tiger Beat from announcing the tot’s favorite color, super-coolest band, and turn-offs.

REEL DEALS John Woo will direct ”Windtalkers,” a based-on-fact tale of Navajo Indians recruited during WWII to use their language as a code. Woo is hoping to nab his ”Face/Off” star Nicolas Cage to play a bodyguard assigned to protect the Navajos, but under orders to kill them if they come under threat of capture by the Japanese…. Director Alfonsa Cuaron (”Great Expectations”) also has a WWII project on his roster. He’ll helm ”Grant’s War,” about a POW law student who has to defend his camp’s only black soldier from a murder charge.

CASTING Janet Jackson may be returning to movie screens, six years after ”Poetic Justice.” She’s considering joining Eddie Murphy in ”The Nutty Professor 2,” according to MTV News…. James Marsden (”Disturbing Behavior”) has filled the final slot on the ”X-Men” roster, having been cast to play Cyclops, the hero who shoots laser beams out of his eyes.

DELAY You’ll have to wait a little bit longer to see Jodie Foster‘s first role since ”Contact”: Fox has pushed back ”Anna and the King” from its Nov. 17 release date to Dec. 24.

TV WATCH The low-rated soap ”Sunset Beach” may never see the sun again now that all 13 of the NBC-owned affiliates have committed to airing a new talk show, ”The Ainsley Harriott Show,” in its place starting in January. More stations are likely to follow, according to Variety, bumping ”Beach” for good…. The Fox network is planning a biopic of Muhammad Ali to air next February, not to be confused with Barry Sonnenfeld and Will Smith’s Ali movie project…. Director Mimi Leder (”Deep Impact”) is working on a new series for ABC about life at a fast-paced TV news network. TV do love itself, don’t it?

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