Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Brock Lesnar, Chuck Liddell and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson had all better watch their muscled backs, because there's a new mixed martial artists ready to step into the ring, and he's a bigger star than all of them.
Sony has announced that "Grown Ups" star Kevin James will re-team with the studio for an untitled movie set in the world of mixed martial arts.
James will play a physics teacher whose school is facing drastic budget cuts. In order to earn money to save his best friend's job and the music program that his students hold dear, he moonlights as an MMA fighter, and ultimately winds up doing battle in the UFC.
Credit Sony for recognizing talent when the studio sees it, and doing what it takes to hold onto it. James is a relatable everyman who just may be the most likeable movie star working today. How else can one explain the surprising success of "Paul Blart: Mall Cop?"
Allan Loeb is in negotiations to write the MMA script, having recently worked with James on Ron Howard's upcoming infidelity comedy "The Dilemma."
James will produce the film through his company Hey Eddie, whose Jeff Sussman will exec produce. Todd Garner will also produce the fast-tracked project, which the studio hopes to put into production early next year.
That means that Sony's previously announced project with James, the action comedy "Here Comes the Boom," must be taking a backseat to the MMA movie, since the former film was also eyeing a January start date.
Columbia Pictures president Doug Belgrad and Sam Dickerman will oversee the project's development for the studio.
After "The Dilemma," James next stars in Sony/MGM's "The Zookeeper," which features the voices of frequent collaborator Adam Sandler, as well as Sylvester Stallone, Nick Nolte and Cher. That comedy will be released on July 8, 2011.
James' relationship with Sony dates back to his CBS sitcom "The King of Queens," and the studio also had the foresight to cast James in his first big movie, the 2005 Will Smith rom-com "Hitch."
James is represented by WME, while CAA represents Loeb, whose "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" opens Sept. 24.