Senator catches 'Public Enemy' dead to rights


Who knew Tony Montana and Tommy DeVito had a French cousin?

Senator Entertainment has acquired U.S. distribution rights to "Public Enemy No. 1," a two-part biopic about infamous French criminal Jacques Mesrine that stars Vincent Cassel. The French dual production is one of the largest of its kind, with a budget of about $80 million.

Mesrine's story has drawn the interest of every great French actor over the years, but Cassel, who spent seven years pushing this incarnation with producer Thomas Langmann, ultimately stole the part.

Mesrine returned from fighting in Algeria in the late 1950s to become the "man of a thousand faces," a disguise artist who robbed, kidnapped, murdered and philandered his way around Canada, the U.S. and France during the '60s and '70s until the police gunned him down on the outskirts of Paris in 1979.

"Crime is universal," Senator president Marco Weber said. "What is the fascination in 'GoodFellas?' What is the fascination in all these great gangster movies like 'Scarface?' I see this movie as exactly in the same token. I love these movies."

Weber saw a 20-minute promo reel of the movies in May in Cannes and cut the distribution deal for both films on the spot (he also got the German and Spanish rights). He finally saw the two completed films, which are now being tweaked in postproduction, a week ago in Paris.

"It blew me away," said Weber, who had been following the project for years as a producer. "After watching it, I am very confident that it will become a very big success in France, and that obviously should help carry the movie over here, too."

Weber has to wait for the French release schedule to be determined, but he hopes to have it in American theaters by year's end, with the second film following next year.

The action dramas also star Gerard Depardieu (who wanted to play the part of Mesrine), Mathieu Amalric, Ludivine Sagnier, Gerard Lanvin, Cecile de France, Samuel Le Bihan and Olivier Gourmet. Jean-Francois Richet directed, Abdel Raouf Dafri scripted from Mesrine's autobiography, "L'Instinct de Mort," and Maxime Remillard and Langmann produced.

Senator will release its first movie, "Fireflies in the Garden," starring Julia Roberts and Ryan Reynolds, in November. The company also has "The Informers," "Splice," "Clock Tower" and "Unthinkable" in development. (partialdiff)