LOS ANGELES A powerful father from beyond the heavens sends his son on a fateful journey to Earth to become a savior for humanity.
James Caviezel starred in the Biblical version of that story in Mel Gibson's ''The Passion of the Christ.'' Could he play out that premise again under different circumstances? Say, the comic-book version, with blue tights and a cape?
No superhero fits the literary Christ motif as neatly as Superman, so it's no surprise the soulful, buff and blue-eyed Caviezel is one of the fan favorites to answer a question that has perplexed Hollywood for decades: ''Who can play Superman?''
Caviezel's manager, Beverly Dean, is familiar with the rumor, but calls it speculation.
''Would he like to do it? He loves Superman,'' she told The Associated Press. ''But the truth is there has been no offer, the script isn't even finished but absolutely he'd be interested.''
Bryan Singer, who directed the ''X-Men'' movies, took over the ''Superman'' project last month, refueling the rumor machine. He is currently at work on a script, and Warner Bros. says he hasn't begun the casting process, although it must start soon to make the target 2006 release date.
From little-known soap opera stars to familiar leading men like Brendan Fraser, Jude Law and Josh Hartnett, it seems like nearly every actor between ages 20 and 40 has been draped with the cape at some point.
But playing someone bulletproof has many risks.
''He's got to have all the qualities you want in your president and your father a toughness and a sensitivity at the same time,'' said Danny Fingeroth, author of the book ''Superman on the Couch,'' about the mythical public image of superheroes.
''He has a square-jawed indominatability,'' Fingeroth added. ''He can be tough with bad guys, yet he's got the ability to project sincerity and vulnerability that you want Superman to have.''
Some, like Law and Hartnett, considered and then rejected the role, in part out of fear of sight-unseen sequel commitment. Other contenders like Fraser and former ''Roswell'' actor Jason Behr are still interested, but not holding their super-freezing breath waiting for ''Superman'' to finally come together.
''Everybody is aware of the fact that they've been trying to redo that for a long, long time,'' Behr told an audience two weeks ago at the Comic-Con International in San Diego. ''So, you know, until things happen they happen.''
''Brendan was always interested in the piece, and at this point, with a new director attached, it's in the hands of the film gods. Basically they're starting from scratch,'' said Fraser spokesperson Ina Treciokas.
The Man of Steel hasn't starred in a feature film since 1987's ''Superman IV: The Quest for Peace'' with Christopher Reeve, despite aggressive efforts by Warner Bros. to resurrect the series.
The Reeve movies grossed a total of $318 million domestically, but each installment had steadily diminishing returns from $134.2 million for the 1978 original to a pitiful $15.6 million for the last gasp in 1987.
Superman has had the most success lately as a TV show, ''Smallville'' on the WB, which chronicles the pre-superhero life of Clark Kent when he was just a farmboy with strange powers.
Tom Welling, who stars as young Kent, is another actor fans say they'd love to see in the movie ''Superman'' but that's an extreme long shot.
There were at least three separate films in the works at various points at the studio over the past 10 years, including ''Superman Lives'' with Nicolas Cage as the lead and Tim Burton directing before it was aborted in pre-production in 1996 over its ballooning budget.
Warner Bros. considered mixing two popular franchises with ''Superman Vs. Batman,'' which Wolfgang Peterson was directing before he dropped out to do ''Troy.''
The third and current ''Superman'' project has gone through three directors over the past year.
Last month, ''Charlie's Angels'' filmmaker McG dropped out of the movie, making way for Singer. Before that, Brett Ratner, the director of ''Rush Hour'' and ''Red Dragon,'' was signed on to make ''Superman'' but quit last year, citing ''the difficulty of casting the role of Superman.''
Although it would seem to be a natural for any actor, some of the very things that make ''Superman'' an ideal role on the surface massive worldwide exposure, guaranteed sequels and becoming the face of a pop-culture icon can also be counted as potential drawbacks.
And if fans don't like the movie, you become their nemesis.
Hartnett was among the final contenders who passed on the role, in part because he would have been locked in to several as-yet-unscripted sequels. ''A lot depends on the screenplay and the direction if those things aren't good it will be hard for any actor to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, or turn Kryptonite into gold,'' Fingeroth said.
Anyone who accepts the role can expect to spend the next six to 10 years the prime of a young star's career immersed in grueling special-effects work, dangling from wires and fighting invisible foes. After that, an actor might spend another 10 years trying to undo their screen image as a do-gooder alien muscleman.
Reeve, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a 1995 horse-riding accident, remains ingrained as the image of ''Superman'' for millions and leaves a big shadow for the next actor fill.
Reeve's spokesman said the actor, who has made several guest appearances on ''Smallville,'' is not involved in any way with the new ''Superman'' movie, despite Internet rumors to the contrary. Reeve has not seen a screenplay or discussed the project with the studio, and had no comment on who could be his successor.
Matt Damon was mentioned as a potential Man of Steel when Peterson was developing ''Superman Vs. Batman,'' but ''The Bourne Supremacy'' star was as surprised as anyone to hear that news. ''That shocked me completely. I always thought of Superman looking like Christopher Reeve ... That's not me at all,'' Damon told The AP recently.
A ''Superman'' movie could be a surefire smash akin to ''Spider-Man'' and ''Spider-Man 2'' but Damon said that alone would not be enough to persuade him.
''I would not be interested just because it was a comic book or because I thought it would be a big hit. I would do it I would do anything if you told me there was a great director and a great script attached. If Kenny Lonergan (screenwriter of 2000's intimate sibling drama ''You Can Count On Me'') wrote the script and (''Traffic'' Oscar-winner Steven) Soderberg were directing, and it was 'Superman,' yeah I'd do it.'''
But getting a big-name actor may not be necessary for the movie to draw an audience. Tobey Maguire was known, but not quite a household name, before ''Spider-Man.'' And Reeve was a stranger to moviegoers before he starred in 1979's ''Superman.''
''I think it will need to be an unknown, a fresh face. A celebrity could be distracting,'' said J.J. Abrams, the creator of TV's ''Alias'' and author of the most recent ''Superman'' movie draft which recently was abandoned when Singer came aboard.
A struggling actor also wouldn't have the typecasting worries of a Damon or Law.
''They may say to themselves, 'I'm an unknown and they want me to be Superman, but will I be Superman forever?''' Fingeroth said. ''It still may seem better than waiting tables.''
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