Mike Fleming

vin_diesel_xxxEXCLUSIVE:  A third installment of the extreme sports action film XXX is revving up again, with some real twists and turns. The project has left Columbia Pictures, with negotiations underway for Paramount to take over the franchise, finance production and distribute the film in late 2011 or early 2012. Rob Cohen has returned as director, and reunites with Vin Diesel, with whom he made the original. The new installment of XXX will be shot with 3D cameras.

The project is controlled by Joe Roth, who generated the first two installments through Revolution Studios. Roth licensed the third installment to Columbia Pictures, which financed the development of a script by Michael Ferris and John Brancato. Ultimately, the studio decided not to go forward. Roth took the package only to Paramount, whose  vice chairman, Rob Moore, worked on the original at Revolution. Roth, who just produced Alice in Wonderland and is exec producer of the upcoming Tom Cruise-starrer Knight and Day, will produce with Neal Moritz. Diesel and Samantha Vincent will also be producers through his One Race Productions banner.WireImage_230403

The plot: Xander Cage (Diesel) is left for dead, but returns to execute a very difficult assignment that only he can pull off. Samuel L. Jackson will reprise his role as Agent Augustus Gibbons, Xander’s handler. Most of the action takes place in Europe. Diesel will star in the film right after he completes another installment of The Fast and the Furious, which Universal Pictures will release June 10, 2011. Paramount expects to distribute the film six months or so later.

The big surprise is the return of Cohen, who was expected to be rooted firmly in the Middle Ages. He had been attached to direct the third XXX with Diesel, but departed last summer to direct New Regency’s Medieval, a period action film based on an Alex Litvak/Michael Finch period spec action script. Cohen returned to XXX when Medieval stalled because of a logistical setback. The plan was to shoot this spring in a picturesque village in Dubrovnik, which would have saved the costs of building period sets because the surrounding area is so authentic. Trouble is, tourists flock to the place for just that reason and the shooting schedule threatened to bump up against the start of tourist season. Tourism won.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Columbia dropped out, but the studio’s last film with Cohen, the 2005 action film Stealth, was a costly failure for the studio that grossed just $32 million domestically. Cohen rebounded with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which grossed $401 million worldwide. But that was for Universal.

Said Cohen: “I left the project because I had a very strong instinct it would never get made at Sony, that it wasn’t picking up the critical mass and traction that a movie needs. I got along very well with everybody there, from top to bottom, but in these recession times, you make your picks carefully and it always comes down to judgment calls based on taste and the objectives you’re trying to meet for the studio. For whatever reason, Paramount sees the future of this, and we’re in a very positive place at a new home where there is genuine enthusiasm.”

Cohen, who is now shooting Coke’s first ever 3D commercial, said he’s excited by the possibilities.

“I feel what we did in the beginning of the decade was bring a different attitude to the action movie and a different kind of hero,” Cohen said. “With the new 3D instrument and the techniques I can apply, we can create a different kind of cutting-edge experience in 3D by shooting it that way from the beginning the way James Cameron did Avatar. This won’t be fantasy characters, it takes place on Earth in real time. That’s a new dimension to be explored, and I’m excited.”