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Johnny Depp, WWII Movies and the Rest of the Trend Zone

What are the keys to selling a script in Hollywood these days? Cooking, combat, and cocaine.

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Coming soon to a theater near you: a high-powered chef who smuggles drugs during World War II! Okay, we made that up, but don’t count it out. Such a flick would neatly encompass all three of Hollywood’s current obsessions: To wit, a bizarre flurry of films about cooking, narco-trafficking, and the big war—many with A-list actors attached—is in the works in Tinseltown. ”You can do something on some remote subject matter and you turn around and there are three similar projects in development,” sighs Lisa Moiselle, VP of production at Bedford Falls Company (The Siege), which has two WWII pics in the works. ”Then it just becomes a matter of who’s going to reach the finish line first.” Here’s a peek at those in the running.

—Looks like Steven Spielberg‘s box office victory has cleared the way for a second wave of WWII films. ”There was a time when you would say ‘World War II’ and [studios] would say ‘Never,”’ says Moiselle. ”After Saving Private Ryan came out, it was like ‘Sign me up.”’ Perhaps the biggest flick in Hollywood’s arsenal: Touchstone’s Tennessee: Pearl Harbor, directed by Armageddon‘s Michael Bay and reportedly budgeted at $145 million. The epic, set at the time of the 1941 Japanese sneak attack on the U.S. fleet, concerns two best friends in love with the same woman; Gwyneth Paltrow has been discussed as a possible star. ”This is a real chance for me to work on something serious,” Bay says. ”I did my PG-13 popcorn movie.” Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage will soon begin shooting Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, about an Italian soldier who falls in love with a Greek islander. Producers Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz—who head up the Bedford Falls Company—are working on And Miles to Go, which follows a boy who rescues a horse in war-torn Poland. And Matthew McConaughey stars in U-571, a submarine thriller due out from Universal in April. ”World War II has the perfect delineation between good and evil,” notes Universal production president Kevin Misher. In other words, says U-571 writer-director Jonathan Mostow, ”there’s no better bad guy than a Nazi.”

—Hollywood is cooking up no fewer than eight movies about meal preparation. ”We are in the era of glamorization of food,” explains producer Alan Poul (Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City). ”We’re in the age of Martha Stewart and the Food Network.” Poul, for one, is serving up Woman on Top, a Fox Searchlight romantic comedy due in late spring about a Brazilian woman, played by Penélope Cruz (All About My Mother), who becomes a famous TV chef. Meanwhile, Jim Carrey has shown interest in Twentieth Century Fox’s God of Cookery, about a genius chef in a fantasy world where cooks are more popular than rock stars. ”There’s something kind of elemental about watching food movies,” says Fox Film Group president Tom Rothman. ”Sex, love, and food—that’s what people want.” Among the other culinary films on the burner: American Pie directors Chris and Paul Weitz are adapting The Making of a Chef, about a cooking school; songstress Lauryn Hill has signed on to star and produce Sauce, playing the granddaughter of a barbecue-sauce biggie who falls in love with a rival’s grandson; and producer Neal Moritz (Blue Streak) has optioned Iron Chef, the cult Japanese game show currently airing on the Food Network, for a Sony feature. Delicious!