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AS THE CROWE FLIES FROM THE KIDMAN--FOR THE SECOND TIME!

He’s done it again. But just how many times does the volatile Russell Crowe think he can get away with leaving Nicole Kidman in the lurch? Last year he bolted from “Eucalyptus,” the ambitious Australian project in which he and Kidman were to be teamed under the direction of Jocelyn Moorhouse, the woman who put him on the movie map with her hard-hitting “Proof." Sadly, "Eucalyptus" today lies withering in movie limbo.

True to form, Crowe has now made an abrupt exit from the still-untitled Baz Luhrmann project in which he was to play an enigmatic Australian who comes to the aid of a British damsel in distress (Kidman). In danger of losing her recently inherited ranch to villainous robber barons, she allows the take-charge Aussie to escort her and her 2,000 head of cattle to the presumed safety of Darwin, an Australian site they can scarcely imagine will soon become the target of the very Japanese forces that just bombed Pearl Harbor.

The good news is that the off-screen drama of the beautiful but twice-abandoned movie star does have a happy ending. That’s because Crowe’s replacement is Hugh Jackman, the rising Australian star who is more affable than--and every bit as charismatic as--quitter Crowe. --GUY FLATLEY