Whitney Houston | John Travolta

Whitney Houston's Comeback?

I do believe that Whitney Houston is ready to make her comeback.

A beautiful color photo of the cherubic-looking Whitney is prominently featured in the booklet-sized invitation for Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammy bash on Feb. 12.

Houston is only one of four performers featured in the glossy invite. The others are Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and Annie Lennox.

Davis always keeps the names of the performers at his party a secret until the last minute, but we already know that Davis's J Records stars Jamie Foxx and Gavin DeGraw are scheduled to be in the show.

A good guess would also include J's teen sensation R&B star Mario.

But I wouldn't count on Jennifer Lopez or Ashlee Simpson getting on Clive's stage. Only the most confident singers need apply, because there's no augmentation.

Since Davis always throws in some superstars from the past, this year could be particularly exciting.

Available and ready are Mavis Staples, who's getting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys, and Billy Preston, who'll be collaborating in a Ray Charles tribute at the Grammy show with Bonnie Raitt.

Last year, Alicia Keys sang with the legendary R&B group Ray, Goodman and Brown and Russell Thompkins, Jr. of the Stylistics.

Davis's Grammy party continues to be a much hotter ticket than the Grammy show itself, since it is still held in a relatively small venue: the Beverly Hills Hotel ballroom.

Sources tell me demand for seating is higher than ever this year, because many tables have gone to sponsors like L'Oreal and Sirius Radio.

But you can still expect some regulars, with the exception, sadly, of mainstay Dick Clark. If he does put in an appearance, he might cause a bigger stir than Whitney.

As for Whitney: Her return will be greeted with thunderous applause and ovations, if it happens.

She is still the best voice of her generation. And no one can help her re-start her career better than the man who put her on the map in the first place.

Travolta's Latest Turkey Basted by Mystery Man

It's a good thing John Travolta has signed a rich deal to hawk Breitling watches, because his movies are just not selling tickets.

The most recent in a chain of disappointments is the well-intentioned but misguided "A Love Song for Bobby Long."

The Lions Gate release has taken in about $127,000 so far in limited release. With no awards or nominations to give it a boost, "Bobby Long" is headed for the video store shortly.

The movie only cost about $10 million to make, according to executive producer Bob Yari. The Screen Gems division of Sony Pictures covered it domestically for about $3 million, and maybe Yari can make the rest back in video sales, rentals and TV airings.

The movie is a character piece, so it probably doesn't have a big international audience, but surprisingly it's grossed about $821,000 in foreign markets.

"Bobby Long" has an interesting story behind it. Travolta didn't take his usual $10 million fee, and skipped some of his usual perks package, which normally includes private chefs and grape peelers.

Instead, he was a partner in the venture, and he's not the first name actor to cut such a deal with Yari. Keanu Reeves did something similar on "Thumbsucker," the Yari production that stole Sundance's heart and is about to be sold to Sony Pictures Classics.

I told you about Yari and his movies "Thumbsucker" and "Chumscrubber" last week. The former was excellent; the latter was not so great — and I'm being kind.

They are just two of about 20 or so films Yari will have produced during a two-year period. He's arrived on the scene with a bang. No one knows who he is or how it happened.

Yari — who the trade papers suggested in recent stories is a mystery man — is pretty out in the open. He's a shopping-mall and commercial-real-estate success story, albeit an unlikely one.

Born in Westchester County, N.Y., he attended the University of California at Santa Barbara and got his B.A., he says, in cinematography from the Brooks Institute of Photography.

He directed a flop in 1989 called "Mind Games," called his career quits and went off to make money.

I spoke to Yari on the phone yesterday, in what I think is his first interview on the way to becoming a media mogul.

Even though he's living in Malibu, he sounds fairly unaffected by the Hollywood scene. He's sorry "Bobby Long" didn't do better.

"Between Screen Gems and Lions Gate, it kind of got lost in the shuffle," he said.

He's not sweating it. Yari sold "The Matador" to Miramax for $7.5 million at Sundance, is finalizing the "Thumbsucker" deal with SPC, has a Bruce Willis thriller coming from Miramax shortly and a film called "Crash" later in the spring that he's excited about.

"Travolta," he says, "is an icon. You will see another resurgence in his career."

Let's hope so. Travolta has had a run of bad luck before. Prior to his resurrection in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" in 1994, he'd been reduced to doing cheesy sequels to the already cheesy "Look Who's Talking."

After his comeback, the "Saturday Night Fever" Oscar nominee had a few actual hits with "Face/Off," "Phenomenon," "Broken Arrow" and "Get Shorty."

But all good things must come to an end, and this moment in the sun did so around 1997.

That's when "Mad City" kicked off a downward spiral of terrible movies, including "Swordfish," "The General's Daughter," "Domestic Disturbance," "The Punisher" — do any of these ring a bell? — "Lucky Numbers," "Ladder 49," "Primary Colors" and the infamous "Battlefield: Earth."

Even his next feature, "Be Cool," a sequel to "Get Shorty," is said to be pretty bad.

Yari, meanwhile, says he has a budget of about $180-$200 million to make 15-20 films a year. He has a knack for signing stars, but he doesn't have consistent taste.

Some of those 20-odd films coming off the line have included Matt Dillon in "Employee of the Month" and David Duchovny's ambitious but flawed directorial debut "House of D," both of which never got far beyond the film-festival circuit.

He spent $32 million on the very bad "Laws of Attraction," with Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore, and has more invested in some films sitting on the shelf that may follow "Bobby Long" and "Laws" down the tubes.

One Yari project everyone would like to see, however, is something referred to so far only as the "Untitled Dave Chappelle/Michel Gondry Project."

I told you about this in September, when the comedian and the iconoclastic director filmed a reunion of The Fugees for a film that combines comedy skits along with performances by other "positive" hip-hop and R&B acts such as the Roots, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Jill Scott, Cody Chesnutt and Kanye West.

And yes, everyone in Hollywood is thinking: Is this another Elie Samaha or Menahem Golan, two successful producers who also seemingly came out of nowhere, or just some fly-by-night adventurer destined to end up in a courtroom?

Anything's possible, but Yari, who's building a hotel complex in Arizona and continues to make real estate his first priority, seems sensible — at least for now. And the good news is: He's using his own money.

"There's a whole history in Hollywood of slaughtered capital," he says. "And you're never supposed to use your own money. I kind of understand that. But I have a business background. There's not a lot of risk. We're very down-side protected."

This from a man who's aiming to create the next New Line Cinema, he says. We'll cross our fingers for him.