Considering that, in real life, the profession seems to fall somewhere between “repellent” and “unbelievably douchey” (see: David Blaine, Criss Angel), it’s somewhat surprising how many magic-based movies we have going around these days. The 2006 double bill of “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist” was the peak of the genre, but recent years have also brought the animated “Illusionist,” Guy Pearce in the little-seen “Death Defying Acts” and, later in the summer, David Tennant as a vampire-fighting trickster in “Fright Night,” while an adaptation of the seminal novel “Carter Beats The Devil” recently got a new lease on life. Even Pixar got in on the act, with the short “Presto.”
Of course, the best-known magician of all time is Harry Houdini, who became perhaps the biggest celebrity in the world in the early part of the 20th century, before dying an untimely death when a feat of bravado went wrong. Houdini’s cropped up onscreen a number of times, but there’s now quite a few projects centering on the legendary illusionist knocking around — Dreamworks recently acquired a spec script from “Changeling” writer J. Michael Straczynski, called “Voices From The Dead,” which has Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle teaming up to solve a murder, while Summit hired “Jackie” writer Noah Oppenheim to pen “The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero,” planned to be an actioner involving the magician’s time with the Secret Service. But the one that seems to have the momentum behind it is set up at Sony: it already has one of the most sought-after directors around on board, and now it’s landed one of the most well-respected writers.
Heat Vision reports that Scott Frank, the writer behind top-notch screenplays like “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” “Minority Report” and the underrated, self-directed “The Lookout,” has been hired to write “Houdini,” which will be directed by “I Am Legend” and “Water for Elephants” helmer Francis Lawrence. This version seems will be a drama about Houdini attempting to debunk a spiritualist, only to fall for her, and start to believe that she could be authentic.
It certainly seems to be an a similar wheelhouse to “Water for Elephants,” which picked up respectful but unenthusiastic reviews and box office a few months back. Lawrence has quite a few projects circling at present, including the WW2 tale “Unbroken,” which Richard LaGravenese is writing, and a big-budget superhero take on “Samson,” so it’ll probably depend on how the scripts turn out as to which he moves on to next. Still, hiring Frank is a good start: aside from being one of the most in-demand script doctors around, he’s one of the best in the business for this kind of thing. It’s a smart hire on Sony’s part, even if we’d rather see Frank working on another directorial effort (he was removed by Fox from the project that eventually became “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which he originated).