September 18, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

GETTING PUNCHY Of course, the only thing hotter than football movies in Hollywood right now is boxing projects. The Men in BlackWild Wild West combo of Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld have been attached to Ali, which will chronicle the rise, fall, and rise of the Greatest. Meanwhile, Ving Rhames, who turned in a stellar performance as flamboyant fight impresario Don King for HBO last year, is in training to star in Paramount’s biopic of former heavyweight champ Sonny Liston. There’s also Universal’s Lazarus and the Hurricane, which will star Denzel Washington as controversially imprisoned former middleweight champion Rubin ”Hurricane” Carter (shooting begins in November). And Jon Favreau (Swingers) will climb into the ring as Rocky Marciano for Showtime. What is it about the sweet science that’s attracting the celebrity set? ”It gets man at his most primal stage,” theorizes Rhames. ”It deals with the core of mankind.” So when are we going to see the Bill Clinton-Kenneth Starr grudge-match feature?

Casting Call The ghosts of history. Long-range bombs. A tense countdown. They sound like elements of a taut military thriller — maybe something set in the Middle East and starring Gene Hackman? — but they’re actually the key components of this summer’s riveting baseball season. For months, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s historic assault on Roger Maris’ record for most home runs in a season has galvanized the attention of sports fans around the country. But would it play in the multiplex? Perhaps, especially with these stars cast to fill out the roster:

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