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Warner Bros. Want Phil Lord and Chris Miller to ‘Beat the Devil’

Written by on June 4, 2012 

Since its publication in 2001, Glen David Gold‘s Carter Beats the Devil has been on Hollywood’s agenda — which isn’t to say that it’s actually got anywhere in those eleven years, though. The most famous attempt at adaptation would involve one Tom Cruise, who, under Paramount, would’ve produced and starred in the period piece about magic, Warren G. Harding (America’s worst President), and a murder conspiracy that mixes both with what most describe as wit, verve, and flavor. It sounds like a book that could make a great film, and it might finally be in motion.

It’s been almost a year since Warner Bros. snatched up rights, and THR says they’ve finally set their sights on someone(s): Phil Lord and Chris Miller, those behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and, most recently, the hilarious 21 Jump Street. The various parties are only engaged in regular old talks at the moment — considering this project’s long, unsuccessful history, we might need more to have any confidence — but this, here, is the first real sign of life since Carter was bought by the studio. (Other than Michael Gilio completing a screenplay behind closed doors, of course.)

Some questions do arise about Lord and Miller‘s involvement, however — schedules and general timing being chief among them. Lego is next on the pair’s docket (that’s set for early 2014), while a sequel to 21 Jump Street might be in their future. Should they take the latter project under their wing, that leaves them occupied until, let’s say, 2014. Will Warner Bros. hold it off for a few years?

The way I see it, Carter‘s had such a long run in getting to theaters that, when you add it all up, waiting until 2015 or so shouldn’t be such a strenuous process. (As far as I know, it’s not like Glen David Gold needs it made before he can write another novel.) If cooler heads prevail — not that I always expect this with a Hollywood studio — there’s no problem on this front. Most importantly? They’ve got a really energetic, talented duo in line to make the thing happen. If you need to wait, you just wait.

Here’s a full synopsis of the novel (via Amazon):

“The plot turns around the questionable circumstances surrounding scandal-beleaguered President Warren Harding’s unexpected death on August 2, 1923, shortly after appearing on stage with the magician Carter the Great in San Francisco. Trapped without adults during the historic San Francisco blizzard of 1897, nine-year-old Charlie Carter discovers a book on magic in his father’s library and entertains his brother with coin and card tricks. By the time he is 17, at the suggestion of famous ’20-Mule Team’ millionaire Borax Smith, Carter finds a booking with a seedy vaudeville troupe during summer vacation.

Following graduation, he procures a more reputable booking and elects to postpone Yale for a year. At the end of his second tour, he is hooked and never returns to academia. Marvelously layered between flashbacks romanticizing the real Charles Carter’s early years on and off the stage and later action in the mid-’20s with Secret Service Agent Griffin’s conviction that Carter knows Harding’s apocryphal secret, the saga has the dash of Harold Robbins and the sweep and erudition of E.L. Doctorow.”

Have you read Carter Beats the Devil, and is the adaptation high on your must-see list? Could Lord and Miller do the novel justice?

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