Sean Penn backs out of two films

'Three Stooges,' 'Cartel' lose Oscar winner

Sean Penn is taking his Oscar and going home.

The "Milk" star has dropped out of two high-profile films: MGM's "The Three Stooges" and Universal and Imagine's crime thriller "Cartel."

It is understood that the two-time Oscar-winning actor-writer-director is taking a leave from his Hollywood career to focus on his family. Penn has already informed the productions he will not be available. It's unclear how long the absence could last, though sources have said up to a year.

Penn's moves now leave both projects in the lurch, though "Stooges' " dilemma is potentially more serious.

Peter and Bobby Farrelly have spent the better part of a decade trying to get "Stooges" off the ground, and in March they pulled off a major casting coup: Penn as Larry, with Jim Carrey as Curly and Benicio del Toro as Moe.

Now MGM and the Farrellys, who wrote the script and are slated to direct, need to decide whether they will wait for Penn or seek to find a new actor.

Time and availability are the issues: "Stooges" was eyeing a late August start date, and MGM has slotted it for a 2010 release. If the studio does wait, it could risk losing Carrey and del Toro. On the other hand, half of Hollywood would poke their eyes out for the part.

Universal and Imagine, meanwhile, plan to move ahead on "Cartel" without Penn and will recast the part. The script, which is still being worked on, follows a man who journeys to protect his son after his wife is murdered by Mexican drug cartels. Asger Leth is directing. The movie had no start date or release date.

In May, Penn filed for a request to dismiss his legal separation case from Robin Wright Penn. It is the second time he has rescinded divorce proceedings.

He has two movies in the can, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" and Doug Liman's adaptation of Valerie Plame's political memoir, "Fair Game." Both are River Road Entertainment productions, though Participant Media was also involved in "Fair Game."
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