U’s still high on ‘Gangster’

'Rwanda' helmer gives pic a second chance

Universal Pictures and Imagine are ready to give “American Gangster” another chance with “Hotel Rwanda” writer-director Terry George.

In October, weeks before production was set to begin, the studio pulled the plug on the period pic (Daily Variety, Oct. 7). Antoine Fuqua was to direct Denzel Washington and Benicio Del Toro, who both had pay-or-play deals.

U drew the line because of fears that the gritty period drama was on course to cost more than $100 million. The studio is estimated to have paid out $20 million-plus to settle its pay-or-play obligations.

The film’s producer, Imagine topper Brian Grazer, and U vice chairman Scott Stuber will redevelop the film with George. Goal is to make it for around $50 million. George’s deal will be negotiated this week.

Since George directed “Hotel Rwanda” to critical acclaim, speculation has begun that that pic’s Oscar-nominated star Don Cheadle would be drafted to play the lead role of Frank Lucas, the mastermind of a scheme to smuggle heroin into the U.S. in the caskets of soldiers killed in Vietnam.

Del Toro had been set to play narcotics lawman Richie Roberts, who brought down the Harlem drug kingpin called Superfly and then drafted Lucas to help bring down the dirty cops and overseas conspirators who made it easy to import heroin into the U.S.

No casting will be done until U brass is confident the Steven Zaillian-scripted drama can be executed stylishly for a reduced price. George, whose screenplay work includes Jim Sheridan-directed pics “The Boxer” and “In the Name of the Father,” will take part in revising that script.

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