Ali Film Takes It on the Chin

After months of intensive workouts, Will Smith is ready to step into the ring as Muhammad Ali. The trouble is, the film about the boxing champ may just have been KO'd.

According to Variety, Sony just put the picture in turnaround, a k a movie purgatory, where it may stay indefinitely. The budget on the film is reportedly shooting upward of the $105 million cap the studio put on it.

The shutdown may be just a ploy to control director Michael Mann, Variety surmises. The Oscar-nominated director of The Insider is meeting with studio execs today to see if the film's budget can be scaled back.

Leading man Smith, who has Ali's personal approval to portray him, exercised directorial approval on the film. He and the studio chose to back Mann instead of Spike Lee, who was actively pursuing the job. Barry Sonnenfeld, who directed Smith in the smash Men in Black and the dud Wild Wild West, was originally attached to direct.

If Ali is down for the count, Smith may consent to star in another Sony property, the much-anticipated Men in Black sequel. However, the former Fresh Prince may opt to follow Ali to another studio if Sony decides to sell off the boxing biopic.

Sony is in the middle of cleaning house to offset a slate of 2001 releases being financed by Joe Roth's new Revolution Studios, and Ali isn't the only film affected. Variety reports that the studio has ceded The Shipping News to Miramax. The film has Kevin Spacey, and possibly Julianne Moore, set to star.

Two Sony properties that now belong to New Line are the Alexander Payne-directed drama About Schmidt, with Jack Nicholson expected to star, and Life as a House, written by As Good as It Gets scribe Mark Andrus and starring Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas.