Eminem is back on top of the album charts, and now Vulture has learned exclusively that he's headed back to Hollywood, too: On Wednesday, his Recovery was officially confirmed as last year's biggest-selling album; now this blog hears that the rapper intends to star in a new crime thriller at 20th Century Fox called Random Acts of Violence.
Insiders tell Vulture that Eminem’s Shady Films comrades Paul Rosenberg and Stuart Parr — who also produced his 2002 feature debut 8 Mile, as well as 50 Cent's semi-autobiographical 2005 movie Get Rich or Die Tryin' — would produce Acts of Violence.
What's Random all about? Well, a few years back, the script was essentially a poor man’s version of video game Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar Games’s global megahit. But insiders say the financial incentive was decidedly limited for Rockstar, and the downside massive, and the company declined to sell Fox the rights. (Even as a first-dollar gross participant in an adaptation, Rockstar stood to make only a small percentage of the film's grosses for licensing GTA. Considering that the games in the GTA series have sold a combined 100+ million copies around the world, that’s chickenfeed hardly worth risking a franchise over.)
At first, the studio tried to make Random with a plot that was just thisclose to that of GTA: A June 2008 draft has an ex-con named Emile trying to save his failing repo business and pay for his uncle's botched coke deal by stealing a string of sports cars (Here's "Emile" stealing a Shelby Mustang! Now he's stealing a Porsche! Uh-oh, now he’s stealing a Ferrari 599! etc.) But the script more or less read like a video game, so Fox shifted gears.
The studio brought in writer-director David Von Ancken, who for the last few years has been directing Showtime’s Californication, but who’d also directed the 2006 Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan revenge Western, Seraphim Falls. Von Ancken quickly scrapped the auto eroticism: Out went the car thievery; in came the grit and realism of 8 Mile.
The result, say people familiar with Random's current draft, is a thriller more akin to The Town or The Departed: An ex-con smarter than his past is fresh out of prison and trying to stay legit — but his efforts are complicated by his old gang, who want him back on the job. So, too, does the FBI, which hopes he’ll wear a wire and bring down the crime syndicate. The ex-con, meanwhile, tries to play both sides against each other long enough to exact revenge against those — on both sides of the law — who sent him to prison in the first place.
Insiders tell Vulture that the studio will make one last pass at the script with another writer while Von Ancken is off directing episodic TV, but will likely bring Von Ancken back to direct the film when the screenplay is polished and ready later this year.
Random is an interesting project, not just because of its material or its star, but also because of the sagging fortunes of the recording industry: When Eminem starred in 8 Mile in 2002, he’d just released the 8 million-selling The Eminem Show. By comparison, last year's Recovery has sold “only” 3.3 million copies since its release last June. Has Eminem's box-office pull waned along with the record business's fortunes? Possibly, but Fox is betting that you’ll lose yourself one more time.