August 25, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Who shot J.R.? Nah. The question on the minds of Dallas fans these days is: Will J.R. ever get shot? In development since 2002, the big-screen adaptation of the iconic ’80s TV series has suffered as many setbacks as J.R. Ewing had dirty tricks up his sleeve. Last spring, after the production company New Regency assembled an all-star cast?including John Travolta as J.R.; Jennifer Lopez as his boozy wife, Sue Ellen; and Luke Wilson as his do-gooder brother, Bobby — director Robert Luketic (Monster-in-Law) dropped out. Lopez followed suit last month, fueling rumors that major script problems had derailed the project. (See sidebar, below.) When you add the very real specter of audience fatigue over another movie version of a classic TV show — Bewitched? The Dukes of Hazzard? Hello? Anyone? — it seemed possible that this tale of a superrich Texas oil family might just go the way of Enron.

No chance, says Sanford Panitch, Regency’s president of production. Panitch says that he and Luketic simply ”had different ideas about the script” and that Lopez lost interest after her Monster-in-Law director bowed out. (Reps for Luketic and Lopez declined to comment.) The first step toward reinvigorating the project was signing up British director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) in April. Now the movie (to be distributed by 20th Century Fox) is set to roll in January 2007 in Texas and Louisiana, pending a polished script rewrite from Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias) and a finalized cast. ”We’re not in any rush,” says Panitch. ”Dallas is in people’s consciousness, and we have high hopes for it.” In other words, this particular bad-dream sequence may end sometime soon.


”We’ve talked about Desperate Housewives being a model for it,” New Regency’s Sanford Panitch says of Dallas. ”It’s the ultimate soap opera.” But the screenplay Robert Harling finished back in January doesn’t invoke Wisteria Lane’s dark humor, nor is it a clever, modernized version of the sudsy Dallas series. Instead, Harling’s Dallas script is a Brady Bunch Movie-style spoof with a predictable thriller-lite plot. Sue Ellen drinks, J.R. (Travolta) schemes, Lucy seduces?and these two-dimensional personalities elicit (at least on paper) very few laughs. However, Dallas has gone through ”a few rewrites since then,” says Panitch. A bizarre final scene in a ”Texas-themed disco” aboard the Ewings’ 747 has been axed, and newer versions of the movie will focus more on family dysfunction than ”just a drunken Sue Ellen.” Adds the executive, ”I think the movie has to be brought down to reality [as much as] possible so it doesn’t feel like a satire.” After reading this draft, we agree — don’t mess (too much) with Texas. — Hannah Tucker, with additional reporting by Missy Schwartz

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