Breaking from his usual potty humor in films like Ready to Rumble and See Spot Run (opening today), David Arquette will next flex his dramatic muscles in Screenland, an indie pic based on a real-life murder in America's last silent movie house. Arquette will play James Van Sickle, who was charged with hiring a hit man to murder his 74-year old gay companion, theater-owner Larry Austin, after Austin had named Van Sickle his sole beneficiary.

"It's sort of a homage to movie's lost art," Arquette tells TV Guide Online. "It's such an interesting story that explores so many different elements of human behavior. I found it incredibly sad, but it succeeds in honoring a good man."

On January 17, 1997, "good man" Austin was gunned down in The Silent Movie theatre in Los Angeles' Fairfax district. The seedy tale received much media attention and captured the interest of actor Bill Pullman (Independence Day), who's producing the film.

"It's a very peculiar Hollywood story ? about people who are in love with movies and who preserved a lot of movies that wouldn't be around without them," says Pullman, who expects to begin production on Screenland in April. "They are marginal types who did an incredible service and have a gritty little story behind them."

After the murder, the movie theater shut its doors, with the collection of silent films going into storage at the UCLA film school. The Silent Movie theatre has since reopened its doors and last fall hosted the cast and crew of Will &#038 Grace, who chose the former murder site to screen their third season premiere.