ElieSamaha's Franchise Pictures has signed on to finance the $52m heistthriller Monkeyfaceto star Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones and to be directed by StephenFrears. Laura Bickford and Mark Shorrock are producing the film which will be distributedin North America by Warner Bros per its distribution agreement with Franchise.

The deal comesjust a month after Douglas' production company Furthur Films, which isco-producing Monkeyface,signed a two-year first-look production deal at Warner Bros after being basedat Universal since 1998.

Furthur has alsobeen in business with Samaha on The In-Laws aka The Wedding Party which it co-produced with Franchise andGerber Pictures. The comedy remake stars Douglas and Albert Brooks and opensdomestically through Warner Bros on May 23.

And it'sno coincidence that Franchise recently agreed to finance the $6m Welsh comedy ComingOut which marksZeta-Jones' first film as a producer. Franchise tested the waters withbuyers at AFM this year on both Monkeyface and Coming Out and were met with an overwhelmingly positive response.

Bickford workedwith both Douglas and Zeta-Jones on 2000 smash Traffic for USA Films and IEG for which she wasnominated for a producing Best Picture Academy Award. Although the real-lifemarrieds were both in the film, they appeared in different plot strands and Monkeyface will mark their first screen timetogether. Zeta-Jones, who recently won an Oscar for Chicago, will next be seen in the CoenBros' Intolerable Cruelty opposite George Clooney at Universal.

Monkeyface was written by David Harris is scheduledto shoot in Miami in September and will mark Zeta-Jones' first film sincethe birth of her second child. The stars will play hustlers who team up toswindle a racetrack. Allen Burry will co-produce on behalf of Furthur withDavid Kennaway.

Furthur'snext film is It Runs In The Family which teams Douglas with his father Kirk Douglas, his son CameronDouglas and his mother Diana Douglas. Opening domestically through MGM on Apr25, it is being handled in international territories by Buena VistaInternational.

The film joinsan impressive slate Samaha has put together at Franchise this year. Althoughstill embroiled in its long-running legal battle with Intertainment AG,Franchise has plowed ahead with the backing of its studio partner Warner Brosand will put into production this year Kevin Reynolds' Tristan AndIsolde starring JamesFranco, Paul Verhoeven's Void Moon and David Mamet's Spartan. As well as The In-Laws, other 2002 releases include RobReiner's Alex And Emma and The Whole Ten Yards starring Bruce Willis.