— Watership Down With The Salton Sea safely launching (it hits theaters April 26), director D.J. Caruso is heading into deeper water with The Expendables, a drama about ex-cons employed to dive for a submarine in the South China Sea. Producer Frank Marshall (The Bourne Identity) developed the project with an eye to direct it, but after the script stalled in development, Caruso hopped on board. ”I want to take the best of The Dirty Dozen and have a car accident with Apocalypse Now,” says Caruso, who adds that chances are good that Sean Connery will anchor the cast. (Caruso will fill out the crew with handsome young bucks: He has already met with Paul Walker and is going to talk to Ethan Hawke.) Meanwhile, he’s gearing up for production of the $75 million Warner Bros. adventure, which should begin this fall. ”Thank God for DVDs,” Caruso says. ”We’re watching all the underwater stuff, from Jaws to The Perfect Storm. I’ve watched The Making of the Abyss,” he jokes, ”and learned everything I need to know.”
— Asian Cruise Tom Cruise is busy trying to learn everything he needs to know before heading off to Japan this summer to begin his next project for Warner Bros.: The Last Samurai, directed by Ed Zwick. Set in the 19th century, Samurai will star Cruise as an American hired by the Japanese emperor to train his troops in the art of Western warfare; to prepare, the actor is studying Japanese, Japanese history, and sword fighting. Cruise — who you may recall pushed his stunt double aside and insisted on dangling his own butt off a cliff for the Mission: Impossible sequel — hasn’t lost his sense of adventure: ”You don’t do a movie called The Last Samurai to sit around a table and talk. You do it for the carnage!” he laughs.