Every few years, a hot new screenwriter comes along who makes studio execs forget that they hate hot new screenwriters. A Charlie Kaufman-type phenom will sometimes arise from such excitement, but more often than not, the love affairs ends with a “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” greenlight and subsequent parting of the ways.
Screenwriter John Hlavin has been slowly building towards his Zach Helm moment, writing the next “Underworld” sequel, a Black List-approved crime drama called “The Gunslinger,” and an adaptation of the board game “Risk” (which is being developed by Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment). Now, Universal is entrusting Hlavin to adapt “The Janson Directive,” the final novel by Robert Ludlum, writer of the ‘Bourne’ series.
‘Janson’ has similarities to ‘Bourne’: both involve a government solider who is betrayed by his commander and later ends up becoming a “wanted man.” ‘Janson’ has some interesting elements that might entice big name directors and actors, too. The main character is haunted by memories of the Vietnam War, during which his mentor and commanding officer turned him over to the enemy to be tortured for his own sadistic means. Did someone say “MAU?” We smell a perfect Michael Cimino comeback vehicle with this one.
Universal must be counting on Hlavin to turn in a killer script here. They don’t have a property like ‘Harry Potter‘ or ‘Twilight‘ to fall back on, unless you count those ‘Riddick‘ movies. Their one big franchise—aside from the ‘Fast and Furious‘ films (Vin Diesel has truly been a gift and a curse for the studio)—is the ‘Bourne’ series. Tony Gilroy’s “The Bourne Legacy” stars Jeremy Renner as a character who is not named Jason Bourne. It opens next summer and deals with the series’ history while leaving open the possibility for a future Matt Damon/Paul Greengrass sequel (though, we’re not holding our breath). Universal is no doubt hoping to spin ‘Janson’ into its own successful action series, a move that would buy the studio some breathing room and at least a few sequels worth of profits. If ‘Legacy’ and ‘Janson’ are both hits, perhaps a Ludlum “Avengers” could be made, with Brian Cox taking on the Clark Gregg role.
Cimino jokes aside (but, we’re actually not kidding), it will be interesting to see whom Universal hires to direct the picture. They gave Greengrass his first shot at a studio movie with “The Bourne Supremacy,” and were repaid that favor with a $100 million bath on “Green Zone” and the director’s noncommittal attitude towards a fourth ‘Bourne’ movie. Studios should start dealing with summer tentpole directors the way they do “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity” filmmakers: bring in some guy, and if he gives you any grief, grab another kid from film school. Lionsgate went so far as to give “Saw VI” director Kevin Greutert the indentured servant treatment, enforcing their “Saw 3D” option only after trades reported he would be making “Paranormal Activity 2.” The studio seemed to be doing it just for the fun of it. One executive who has shown admiringly little love for tentpole and awards directors alike is Columbia’s Amy Pascal, who fired Steven Soderbergh and Sam Raimi like they were a couple of craft service cronies.
We’re interested to see what Hlavin will do with the script and whether or not he can make it unique enough to avoid too many ‘Bourne’ comparisons. If audiences show up for it, though, the only comparisons the studio will care about involve box office numbers. Actually, that’s all they’ll care about either way. [Deadline/24 Frames] — By Ryan Sartor