At 7-foot-2, Richard Kiel stands out as one of Hollywood's most identifiable character actors. But the man who hit it big playing Jaws, James Bond's steel-toothed nemesis in two 007 flicks, has not been seen much in recent years. Look for a comeback this year with the release of "The Giant of Thunder Mountain," which he co-wrote and executive produced.

"I've been working on this project for about 51/2 years - it's definitely a labor of love," says Kiel, who is in a partnership with New Generation Entertainment, which is producing and distributing.Set in the 1890s, "The Giant of Thunder Mountain" concerns the friendship of a little girl (played by Noley Thornton) with a reclusive mountain man (Kiel) regarded by locals as a freak.

"This film, more than anything, deals with prejudice," says Kiel, who has drawn on his own experience - and pain - for his role. "I certainly know about how people prejudge others. Hollywood hasn't helped. They've made the big guy the bad guy, or the dumb guy."

Directed by James Roberson, the film co-stars Jack Elam, Marianne (Mrs. Kenny) Rogers, Foster Brooks and William Sanderson. It also features Bart the Bear - the 91/2-foot-tall, 1,600-pound Kodiak bear that "starred" in "The Bear."

"My character has a tremendous fight with that bear," Kiel says. "I won't tell you how it comes out, but we're planning sequels."

Kiel says that he tries to bring sensitivity - and vulnerability - to his roles. "I think that's why audiences liked Jaws so much," he said, referring to the popular villain of "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977) and "Moonraker" (1979). "He could have been strictly a cartoon. But I felt he needed to have some human qualities."

Last seen as a humorous bad guy opposite the Barbarian Brothers in "Think Big" (1989, straight to video), Kiel is concentrating on putting together "positive" family films, for which he believes there is an untapped market.

"I believe in God - prayer has been very important in my life - and I believe we should try to encourage the better side of people." - PAT H. BROESKE

- Neal Jimenez gets on with it:

HOLLYWOOD - When screenwriter Neal Jimenez ("River's Edge") joins the ranks of writer-directors this spring with "The Waterdance," it will be with highly personal material. His script revolves around three men in a hospital's spinal injury ward - the same kind of ward where Jimenez, a paraplegic, spent five months following a 1984 camping trip accident.

Jimenez, 30, will direct from a wheelchair.

"We're working out ways to accommodate me," he says, explaining that his former University of California, Los Angeles, film school classmate, Mike Steinberg, will be assisting as co-director (and making his own directorial debut).

Eric Stoltz heads the cast of the $2.5 million "Waterdance," which takes its title from a dream experienced by one of the characters. The story was inspired by Jimenez's stay at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey, Calif., after he broke his neck in the accident.

"It's about facing up to the situation - and getting on with things," says Jimenez, whose schedule has been filled with assignments - including the upcoming Bette Midler vehicle, "For the Boys" - since his "River's Edge" screenplay was optioned not long before his accident.

"Waterdance" will tackle tough issues, including the effect of spinal trauma on romantic relationships, Jimenez says.

But he also promises: "This won't be a downer, or one of those movies about overcoming adversity. This movie will have a lot of humor. And I'm proud to say there's not one character who's an athlete who has to figure out what to do with his life." - PAT H. BROESKE

- Let's Not Do Lunch:

HOLLYWOOD - Does producer Julia Phillips have a future in Hollywood after trashing numerous colleagues in her upcoming memoir "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again," already excerpted in Premiere and Fame magazines?

"I have no vested interest in staying in movies," says Phillips, 46, who is still living in Los Angeles.

One of the town's hottest producers in the '70s, Phillips teamed with then-husband Michael Phillips on "The Sting" (1973). Following their divorce, they produced "Taxi Driver" (1976) and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977). Of the latter - and its mammoth, trouble-plagued production - Phillips says, "My blood is on every frame."

It was during the production of "Close Encounters" that her career tumbled with heavy cocaine use, a downfall she chronicles in the Random House book, due in February.

Among her printed judgments and allegations:

- Francois Truffaut: "Of all the dead people I know, he wins the (jerk) award hands down."

- Steven Spielberg: "Steven's taste in women is on a par with my taste in men. As in, not so hot." As for his ego: Because he wanted a "written and directed by" credit on "Close Encounters," Spielberg had her "pressure" every contributing writer to "back off" from seeking credit via Writers Guild arbitration.

- Richard Dreyfuss: His own coke use during "Close Encounters" resulted in several emotional confrontations with Phillips.

- Goldie Hawn: "The worst (thing about her) is that she is borderline dirty, with stringy hair all the time."

- Jon Peters: When he came to pick her up for a business dinner, the former hairdresser found her bangs to his distaste. He grabbed some scissors - and restyled.

Phillips, who hasn't yet heard from her subjects, says, "I am preparing myself for some pretty awful things. But then, I've already been through some pretty awful things."

Her last producing venture was "The Beat" (1980). She's currently involved with only one project, "Interview With a Vampire," a longtime pet project based on Anne Rice's 1976 novel.

Phillips largely accepts responsibility for her professional demise - "I think I designed my own downfall, but I had plenty of help along the way" - and does not want the book to come off "as an apologia for my behavior."

She is now at work on two novels, one about Hollywood.

"I looked at my life in the middle of the '80s when it was clear it was going to be very, very hard for me to make a comeback in the changed environment of Hollywood," she says. "My feeling was, it ain't happening for me in the movies - let me try this." - PAT H. BROESKE

- The Perfect Casting?:

HOLLYWOOD - "I've been getting ready for this," says Jeff Speakman, 33, of his starring role in Paramount Pictures' upcoming action picture, "The Perfect Weapon."

Due in March, the $10 million title is co-produced and directed by Mark DiSalle, whose "Kickboxer" and "Bloodsport" paved Jean-Claude Van Damme's way into the action arena.

DiSalle says that he met Speakman during a casting call for "Kickboxer" and "knew the minute I met him that I had to find a film for him."

A fifth-degree Kenpo karate black belt, Speakman is a protege of the late martial-arts master Ed Parker, who was a consultant on the film and choreographed the film's fight scenes with the star.

Born in Chicago, the 6-foot, 185-pound Speakman was a high school athlete who got interested in martial arts watching the "Kung Fu" TV series. He studied Japanese Goju-Ryu karate while earning a degree in psychology at Missouri Southern State.

After relocating here, he began working with Parker, studying acting and appearing in non-martial arts roles on TV and in low-budget movies.

For his role in "The Perfect Weapon," which co-stars Mako, Speakman will be on a quest for justice. But he claims that he won't "do a film with violence for the sake of violence."

"I want to play straight-on heroes, the traditional kind." - PAT H. BROESKE

- Quibbles & Bits:

Film makers Reginald and Warrington Hudlin, who created "House Party," will not be involved as executive producers on "House Party II," as New Line Cinema recently announced here. "We were certainly interested," writer-director Reggie says, "but they never seriously pursued it with us. We will have a financial interest, but nothing creative." The Hudlins currently have a two-year deal at Tri-Star.

- The Movie Chart:

Films going into production:

ALIEN III (Fox). Shooting in London. Sigourney Weaver has been coaxed into returning to battle with the pesky, acid-bleeding extraterrestrials. The location for this particular war will be a peaceful mining planet. Producers David Giler, Walter Hill and Gordon Carroll. Director David Fincher. Screenwriters John Fazano and Larry Ferguson. Winter release.

KISS ME A KILLER (Califilm). Shooting in Los Angeles. A deadly love triangle (one of the trio even gets murdered) propels this action-drama backdropped by East Los Angeles. Producer Catherine Cyran. Director Marcus Deleon. Screenwriter Christopher Wooden. Stars Julie Carmen.

NEON CITY (Neon City Productions). Shooting in Austin, Texas. Picture "Stagecoach" set in the year 2053, say the film makers. Everything goes in this ecologically themed ensemble piece taking place after our ozone layer has been destroyed. Producers Jeff Begun, John Schouweiller and Sy Levin. Director Monte Markham. Screenwriters Buck Finch, Begun and Markham. Stars Michael Ironside, Vanity, Lyle Alzado, Richard Sanders, Nick Klar, Juliet Landau (Martin's daughter), Valerie Wildman, Susan Dion and Sonny Trinidad. Distributor Kodiak Films. Summer release.