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'50/50' Helmer Jonathan Levine In Talks To Direct McG-Produced, Stephen Gaghan-Penned Spy Flick 'Dead Spy Running'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com March 13, 2012 at 9:01AM

Given that the Bourne, Bond and 'Mission: Impossible' franchises are about as reliable a way of landing a hit as you could ask for, finding a new spy series to turn into a blockbuster is sort of the Holy Grail these days. But clearly, it's trickier to make it work than studio executives would hope for: from "The Saint" and "xXx" to "Shooter," through "Salt" and "Abduction," DVD bargain bins are littered with espionage actioners that never quite got enough traction to sustain a long-running series.
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Jonathan Levine Dead Spy Running

Given that the Bourne, Bond and 'Mission: Impossible' franchises are about as reliable a way of landing a hit as you could ask for, finding a new spy series to turn into a blockbuster is sort of the Holy Grail these days. But clearly, it's trickier to make it work than studio executives would hope for: from "The Saint" and "xXx" to "Shooter," through "Salt" and "Abduction," DVD bargain bins are littered with espionage actioners that never quite got enough traction to sustain a long-running series.

But people will keep trying, and the latest director to get involved is a somewhat surprising one, as Twitch report that Jonathan Levine, the director of indie-minded comedy-dramas "The Wackness" and "50/50," is circling "Dead Spy Running," an adaptation of the 2009 spy novel by Jon Stock, which forms the first of the so-called Legoland Trilogy, focusing on renegade MI6 agent office Daniel Marchant.

The plot kicks off with Marchant, suspended from office, trying to defuse a bomb attached to a man running the London Marathon, which will explode if he drops under a certain pace, and goes on to be a globe-trotting adventure as Marchant, -- whose father, a former spy, was accused of treachery by the CIA -- has to prove his loyalty and get to the bottom of a terrorist conspiracy.

Warner Bros. picked up the rights back in 2008, with McG eyeing the film as a possible directorial effort. That sounds fairly grim, but in the same year, Oscar-winner Stephen Gaghan, who penned "Traffic" and "Syriana" (also directing the latter), was brought on to write the script, which suggested the film could be a cut above. And now, with McG presumably having scratched his spy itch on the wretched "This Means War," he stepped aside, telling Collider last month that "we're trying to get Gaghan to direct it."

But clearly, Gaghan found his other projects, like gangster tale "The Snakehead" and an untitled drug trafficking movie more enticing, as Levine is now in talks to take the director's chair, although the "Terminator: Salvation" helmer will produce. At some point along the line, the film appears to have gotten another draft from Jamie Moss ("Street Kings"), but it's unclear if that was before or after Gaghan came on board.

Levine isn't the most obvious choice to direct a big actioner like this, but his career so far has shown him to be something of a chameleon -- he's currently in post on the zombie romance "Warm Bodies," was previously attached to another spy flick "Echelon Vendetta," and has both the "50/50" reunion "Jamaica" and the young adult fantasy "Legend" on his dance card, so this isn't a huge surprise. Plus, McG talked up the project last month as "a spy story for this generation. It’s of the 'The Social Network' age.  Imagine those kids in Zuckerberg’s room in 'The Social Network.' One of them goes on to be a spy and uses his acumen of today’s world: DJ culture, Steve Jobs, the Apple store.  Which I say with respect to Bond, Bourne, and Hunt, they don’t really know that world. But there’s a whole generation of kids that do. And what if a spy came from that place?" So having a youthful helmer like Levine is probably a positive. 

And let's not forget, last time an indie-minded director directed a spy movie, Universal got the Bourne franchise from Doug Liman, and we're sure Warner Bros. are hoping that history will repeat itself. Not only that, Stock has penned two sequels, "Games Traitors Play" and "Dirty Little Secret," so there's plenty of franchise possibilities here. No word on when the film will get rolling, but it seems Levine has more than few options for available for his next movie.

This article is related to: Jonathan Levine, McG, Stephen Gaghan, Dead Spy Running


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