Schwentke catches 'Runaway'

German helmer Robert Schwentke, director of Disney’s upcoming Jodie Foster starrer “Flightplan,” has just inked a deal to direct “Runaway Train” at 20th Century Fox. Studio is putting the action-thriller into active pre-production with the expectation of lensing it early next year.

Story follows a rail company’s frantic efforts to stop an unmanned, half-mile-long freight train carrying enough combustible liquids and poisonous gas to wipe out a nearby city.

Inspired by true events, “Train” would mark the first picture produced by Firm Films under its first-look deal with Fox, a pact inked back in 2003 (Daily Variety, Feb. 28, 2003). The Firm’s production topper, Julie Yorn, is producing the pic with Mimi Rogers; Rogers partner Chris Ciaffa will exec produce via their Millbrook Farms shingle.

The pic is inspired by real-life events of a few years ago, when a runaway freight train carrying thousands of gallons of toxic acid hurtled along nearly 70 miles of track with no one aboard, threatening about 50,000 people.

Pic came together with the speed of a locomotive after “Die Hard 4.0″ scribe Mark Bomback was hired to pen a draft nearly a year ago. Firm client Bomback, whose scripting credits include Lions Gate’s “Godsend” and Warner’s “Constantine,” generated a shooting-quality script for Yorn and Fox’s theatrical production exec Alex Young, who’s overseeing development.

Because Fox had already expressed interest in working with the Firm-repped Schwentke — the studio has the director attached to an adaptation of John D. Macdonald’s 1964 novel “The Deep Blue Good-by” — the move to hire him for “Runaway” went quickly as well.

It’s not clear if Schwentke has said goodbye to “Deep Blue,” but insiders said the helmer would move ahead with Macdonald’s bestselling Travis McGee mystery only after helming “Runaway Train.”

A Fox spokesman had no comment on the deal.

Firm Films is developing several other pics at Fox, among them an adaptation of the popular Rockstar Games title “Max Payne” and “X Girls,” a comedy about three Playboy bunnies who compete in the grueling Eco-Challenge endurance race in Borneo. Cameron Diaz has flirted with the role of one of the bad-ass bunnies.

Schwentke previously directed dark German-language comedy “Eierdiebe” (The Family Jewels).

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