Even though the French comedy The Dinner Game opens in American art houses July 9, it might wind up as an hors d'oeuvre for writer-director Francis Veber's own remake of the film. In his homeland, the movie coasted behind Titanic as the second-biggest Gallic grosser of 1998. But whenever Hollywood tinkers with one of his sly farces, Veber usually comes out smelling like Pepe Le Pew: Fathers' Day, The Toy, Pure Luck, The Man With One Red Shoe all were odoriferous studio versions of Veber hits. ''Some of them were good, some were bad, and some were very bad,'' he admits. Which is why he's cooking up an English-language script of The Dinner Game with screenwriter Andy Borowitz (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and eyeing Robin Williams and Steve Martin to star. ''If I direct it,'' Veber explains, ''it's just to try to protect it.'' Of course, Veber tried that before with 1989's Three Fugitives, a remake of his Les Fugitifs that wasn't exactly a box office Arc de Triomphe. ''It was not perfect,'' Veber concedes. ''What I am telling you now is not that I am better than the others. But I know what I want.''
Days of thunder
Could the next hot trend in action flicks be...horse-drawn buggies and hot-air balloons? In the age of edgy fare like The Matrix, it's hard to imagine a remake of Around the World in 80 Days, the 1956 romp (and Best Picture Oscar winner) in which a Victorian gent and his valet go gallivanting around the globe. But star Brendan Fraser and director Stephen Sommers who conjured up a blockbuster from another campy relic, The Mummy are considering that Lazarus act for 80 Days, as long as the script (still in development at Warner Bros.) swaps Crabtree & Evelyn frills for Simpson & Bruckheimer thrills. ''This movie's really about a guy trying to race around the world. That's got to be amped up: It should feel like 'Holy s---! He barely made it!''' says Sommers. ''I liked the original as a kid. But I can't imagine you'd find anybody under 30 who'd like the movie now. It's very tame.''