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Shawn Levy is new man of 'Steel'

Comes aboard to direct robot boxing film

How's this for an unexpected switcheroo?

Action director Peter Berg, who had been talking with DreamWorks about taking on the studio's futuristic robot boxing movie "Real Steel," has moved on, opening up the gig to Shawn Levy.

Levy is known for directing and producing broad, hit comedies such as the two "Night at the Museum" movies, which have grossed nearly $1 billion in worldwide boxoffice. But the "Steel" story line takes place in a near future where human boxing has been outlawed, and heavy, humanoid robots slug it out in the ring instead. Into this world step a father and his estranged teenage son, who train an extraordinary fighter.

Levy's participation could mean a change in tone for the adventure project and/or a stretching of the creative muscles for the director, who has signed on with DreamWorks to take a swing at it.

"I'm thrilled to be working with Shawn on this project," DreamWorks CEO and co-chair Stacey Snider said. "He's a master of combining heart and human stories with fantastic visuals. I'm sure that in his capable hands, 'Real Steel' will be a film that touches and excites all audiences."

John Gatins ("Dreamer") is writing the most recent draft of the "Real Steel" screenplay.

Angry Films' Don Murphy and Susan Montford are producing. Steven Spielberg will exec produce along with ImageMovers' Jack Rapke, Robert Zemeckis and Steve Starkey. Levy also will serve in a producing capacity.

DreamWorks originally purchased the Dan Gilroy-penned spec in 2003 for ImageMovers to produce, and new Paramount Film Group president Adam Goodman developed it there as production president. Screenwriters Jeremy Leven ("The Notebook") and Les Bohem ("The Alamo") worked on the script as well.

The project was then among those that DreamWorks purchased from Paramount when it split from the studio last fall. In recent months, DreamWorks has been bustling with activity as it completed its multistrand financing deals with India's Reliance ADA and a syndication of banks.

"Steel" would be distributed by Disney.

The project began generating heat this summer when Berg ("Hancock") started circling it. The WME-repped director ultimately decided to concentrate on two Universal projects -- an adaptation of the Hasbro game "Battleship" and the Afghan war story "Lone Survivor" -- so Spielberg called Levy last week to ask if he were interested.

"Steven's passion for this project was absolutely infectious and I'm so excited to bring this story to life," Levy said. "In a movie filled with these mechanical warriors, at its core 'Real Steel' is an incredibly human story."

The WME-repped Levy is finishing up his latest comedy, "Date Night," which Fox will release in April. He has a dozen other projects in development as a director and producer through his 21 Laps Entertainment banner.

Jay A. Fernandez reported from Los Angeles; Borys Kit reported from Toronto.