Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: As Tom Cruise today looks to strengthen his box office foothold with Oblivion after a huge overseas opening last weekend, I’ve been wondering when Will Smith was going to start cranking them out again. Looks like he’s chosen this week to really get back into the mix: He signed to do the Warner Bros grifter pic Focus, and I’m told that Sony Pictures and his Overbrook Entertainment partner James Lassiter and Jada Pinkett Smith have revived American Can, and are now looking to Ed Zwick to direct Smith in a reluctant hero role that seems like a tailor-fit. He will play John Keller, a real guy who returned from Gulf War service looking for a new challenge, and found one after Hurricane Katrina devastated his home city of New Orleans. He found a boat and was moving to safety when he saw a blind elderly woman, stranded and calling for her son. Knowing she would certainly die if he passed by, Keller brought her back to safety in the American Can building. Shortly after, he found many more stranded seniors, and brought each of them back, around 244 in total, to American Can, a building that at least was dry. It was tricky business, but using his resourcefulness and his military training to get food drops to feed his new friends, he kept them alive and eventually found enough boats to lead them all to safety.

The script was written by Adetoro Makinde and John Lee Hancock. Hancock originally intended to direct it, but the project languished while Smith did other things and Hancock went off to direct Saving Mr. Banks at Disney with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, poised to follow that with The Highwaymen, with Liam Neeson and Woody Harrelson being courted to play the Texas Rangers who hunted down Bonnie & Clyde.

I’m told Smith will likely do this film after Focus, in which he’ll play a veteran con man who mentors a young female newcomer to the grifter game for directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra. This is the project that Ben Affleck was going to star in, before dropping out to focus on the adaptation of the Dennie Lehane novel Live By Night, which Affleck will direct.

There has also been talk that Smith is once again eyeing The Accountant, another project he’d previously circled, back when it was at Warner Bros and Mel Gibson was going to direct him. I’d heard that this project was coming around again at Media Rights Capital with Sony, but PR for MRC denied it yesterday. Now, they are saying they only denied the Will Smith part of it, but since I see a story this morning about MRC’s involvement on my sister publication Variety (without any substantive cast details), I am going to remember now and in the future that my sources are more believable than PR people, and just put it out there. I do believe that Smith is once again eyeing this thriller about a government accountant who doubles as an assassin. Gibson is no longer involved. Bill Dubuque wrote the script.

I’m not saying Smith has to prove his viability. MIB3 grossed $624 million worldwide (I don’t know if that made it profitable, but it is a huge gross), and he next stars in with son Jaden in the M. Night Shyamalan-directed After Earth, which I hear turned out well. He throws a lot of effort into Overbrook producing projects like Karate Kid and the upcoming Annie. But when they ask who’s the world’s biggest male box office star, I guess I just would like to see him make a better case for that crown, which means more films with Smith front and center.

Smith and Zwick are repped by CAA.

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