Phil Lord and Chris Miller are starting to look like something like miracle workers. Until a few years ago, the duo were known (if they were known at all) for their work on short-lived MTV animation “Clone High,” but made their directing debut three years back with the 3D CGI animated “Cloudy With Chance Of Meatballs.” It wasn’t anticipated by many — a picture-book adaptation about food raining from the skies? Yeah, right. But those who did see it were delighted by a consistently hilarious and surprising film with a lot of heart, and it landed the directors firmly on the map. And then earlier this year, they repeated the trick, taking another piece of unpromising material, a reboot of ’80s TV series “21 Jump Street,” and turning it into a consistently hilarious and surprising film with a lot of heart. We’ve seen them do wonders with stuff that doesn’t look like much, so the question is — what will they do when they have a great piece of material from the start?
Because according to The Hollywood Reporter, the duo are currently in discussions to helm an adaptation of the acclaimed novel (and one of our favorites of the last decade or so), “Carter Beats The Devil,” for Warner Bros. The book, by Glen David Gold, has been a cult favorite since its publication in 2001, and revolves around a famous stage magician, Charles Carter, who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy in San Francisco in the 1920s after the death of President Warren G. Harding.
It has pretty much everything you’d want from a story — thrills, action, not one but two tragic romances, comedy, intrigue etc — so it’s no surprise that there have been attempts to make it ever since it was published. Tom Cruise wanted to star with Robert Towne writing and directing a decade ago, but it never came together, while AMC mulled turning it into a TV series a few years back. But Warner Bros. have been moving ahead quite quickly with it since picking up the rights in 2010, hiring writer Michael Gilio (Black List scripts “Big Hole” and “Keep Coming Back“) to pen the script almost exactly a year ago.
And now Lord and Miller are in firm talks to come on board. And while they weren’t filmmakers we might have considered before (we’d named helmers like Rian Johnson, Peter Weir and Brad Bird back in the day), we’re totally on board — they’d have to play it a little straighter than we’ve seen from them so far, but the duo have certainly shown that they can juggle the tricky mix of tones that the novel would require, plus they’re yet to put a foot wrong, which certainly helps. The only thing that gives us a little pause is the trade’s report that Warner Bros are comparing it to their “Sherlock Holmes” franchise, but hopefully Lord & Miller won’t lose the depth and idiosyncracies of the novel.
We also wonder if their hire might have something to do with a prospective star: a year ago, it was reported that the studio wanted Johnny Depp to lead in the film. Given that he just worked with them on a cameo for “21 Jump Street,” and reportedly enjoyed the experience and the finished product, could they be hoping to land Depp with Lord and Miller at the helm? Either way, it’s unclear when the film might move ahead. The directing duo are in production on a CGI “Lego” movie for the same studio due for release in 2014, but may be able to work on both simultaneously, as Tim Burton did recently on “Dark Shadows” and “Frankenweenie” — they told us back in March that that was their aim, hoping to prep a live-action film when the “Lego” production moves to Australia.