Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston Set for Big Returns

Mariah Carey | Charlize Theron | Jim Dale

Mariah, Whitney in Album Race

Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, old rivals in the pop music world, are racing to finish albums and release them this year.

Carey looks like she’ll be the winner. According to my sources, she’s nearing the end of recording for a CD to follow up her mega-selling “Emancipation of Mimi.” Island/DefJam has set a Nov. 20 release date.

Carey has been recording all over the world, including on her beloved Isle of Capri, where she was recently photographed cavorting on designer Roberto Cavalli’s yacht.

In fact, she’s been working her ample posterior off, and has as many as eight finished tracks in the can, sources tell me.

“She’s working with all different producers and writers,” a source said. “And she sounds great.”

Meanwhile, Houston is said to have two completed tracks finished and is getting ready for a third. Her album still has no name or release date, but all systems continue to be "go” according to insiders.

The big news about Whitney is that she may be ready to quit living in Los Angeles, where she’s been for more than a year while kicking drugs and starting her life over.

The talk now is that this fall, Houston will resume living in Atlanta, the place where she had many painful experiences during her turbulent marriage to Bobby Brown.

Charlize Stars in 'Crash' Director’s New Film

“In the Valley of Elah” is not exactly a movie title that comes trippingly off the tongue. But that’s the new film from Paul Haggis, Oscar-winning director and writer of “Crash.”

I saw it Wednesday night at a very hush-hush afternoon screening, and this much can be said: Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron are so good in this movie that you can overlook some of its lapses.

“Valley” opens in September, and there’s already strong buzz on it. That may be overstating the case a bit.

This is not “Crash 2” with many interwoven stories. There is just one story here, that of Jones trying to figure out who chopped up and killed his Iraq soldier son after the kid returned from a tour of duty.

Theron plays the local police detective who helps him uncover the mystery. There is no romance between the two characters, but plenty of chemistry as they navigate Haggis’ twists and turns.

One thing is for certain: The version I saw of “Valley” includes way too many name-value actors in very small roles. Jason Patric and the under-used Frances Fisher have supporting roles that are fine, but Susan Sarandon, James Franco, Josh Brolin and Barry Corbin are top-billed but literally make cameo appearances. Why? I have no idea.

But it almost becomes an inside joke. At one point, a girl who looks just like Rebecca De Mornay happens through a scene. You almost want to ask who’s next?

But there’s a lot more to “Valley” than just the murder mystery. Haggis and writer Mark Boal are attempting to make an anti-war allegory, too.

Jones plays a retired Army lifer who has to accept how a different generation is coping with the after-effects of serving in Iraq.

To his credit, Jones — who has an Oscar for “The Fugitive” — is unusually sublime. His work is so good that no matter what happens to “Valley” he is nearly assured of many different awards and nominations next winter.

Charlize is equally good, staying in the dressed down, no-makeup zone that earned her an Oscar for “Monster” and a nomination for “North Country.”

One reviewer at the screening told me later he didn’t recognize her for the first 20 minutes. It’s hard not to, since Theron is a great beauty. But she also grows as an actress with every new movie. She is just astonishing sometimes.

The title, “In the Valley of Elah,” refers to the New Testament saga of David slaying Goliath with a slingshot. The biblical tale is told a couple of times in the film as a character point, but really, it’s a terrible title for a movie.

But this is Warner Independent, the company that changed “Clubland” to “Introducing the Dwights.” They have their own ideas about marketing films.

“Valley” is marked by a couple of oddities, not the least of which is a consistent product placement for EarthLink, the Internet service. You’d think a Warner film would feature AOL.

But EarthLink is a company founded by Scientologists, as I told you last week. Haggis is part of that group. It’s not a coincidence.

I also cannot figure out why Sarandon and Franco are in this film. Is it just to be associated with the talented Haggis, who wrote “Million Dollar Baby” as well?

Sarandon is a national treasure, and needs to be in more films. Hopefully we’ll see her Doris Duke project, “Bernard and Doris,” directed by Bob Balaban and co-starring Ralph Fiennes, on HBO this fall.

As for both of them, maybe they’ll make Haggis’ DVD version of “Valley” one day with scenes left on the cutting-room floor.

Harry Potter's Fate: 'Barnum' Knows

P.T. Barnum, the man who invented the modern circus, is famous for saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

How appropriate then that the man who won a Tony Award for playing Barnum on Broadway is one of the few people in the world who knows the ending of J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series.

Jim Dale, of course, is the narrator of the Potter books audio recordings on CD and tape. As with all the others, he narrates the seventh installment, due on July 21. His enormous success with “Potter” may explain why he’s worked so little in theater and film for the last decade: He simply doesn’t need to.

Where is the 72-year-old Dale (who looks 20 years younger) now? In hiding, no doubt, until Harry’s fate is made public.

And here’s a bit of trivia: He wrote the lyrics to the Oscar-nominated song “Georgie Girl” back in the early 1960s.