Sep 14, 2012

Tradecraft: Dead Spy Running Becomes Dead DJ Running?

I've been intrigued about the movie Dead Spy Running ever since Jon Stock's novel was first optioned by Warner Bros. in 2008, prior to publication, for McG (This Means War) to direct. I've been excited for it ever since I read the book (read my review here), which I though would make a great film. So I'm always happy to see news on this project, because I like to see that it's still alive in some form after passing through the hands of McG (who is still attached as a producer), Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) and Jonathan Levine (50/50). But, this time... I'm afraid I'm less happy. Because the story itself (and the main character) appear to have morphed in such a way as only Hollywood can do. In fact, it sounds like the current incarnation of the film has very little in common with the book at all. I liked that Dead Spy Running's hero, Daniel Marchant, presented a new kid of MI6 agent to anchor a franchise--decidedly different from Bond, but not Bourne, either. A spy for this generation, in the employ of a government. Since Bourne (and his successor) are always running from their government instead of working for it, this was an opportunity to start a new spy franchise built around a secret agent who was actually an active secret agent. But no more. Now, in a ridiculous twist that turns the whole movie (and, sadly, probably the book by association) into a punchline, he has become an electronic dance DJ. Here's how the trade blog describes the plot of the film at this juncture, no doubt in a synopsis provided by the studio:
Dead Spy Running follows Danny Marchant, a young DJ on the rise in the international world of electronic dance music. Danny is forced to go on the run with a beautiful secret agent assigned to watch him after he is framed for his MI6 agent father’s murder. As Danny tries to clear his name and avenge his father’s death, he gets deeper into the world of espionage while never forgetting his background and skills as a DJ. Danny must ultimately rise up and defeat a terrorist intent on destroying western civilization in an adventure that takes him through the world to London, Paris, Corsica, New York, and Mumbai.
That's right, "while never forgetting his background and skills as a DJ." Sigh. This is an awful development. I can see the appeal of an Everyman hero as opposed to a trained secret agent... but that's not this story! Write your own movie about a DJ caught up in espionage, Warner Bros., and adapt the freaking novel that Jon Stock wrote and you optioned! Not only is the lead character's profession changed (and quite preposterously, at that), but the plot details described here differ significantly from that of the book as well. Even the locations are different. I hate to see a good book become something totally different in the adaptation. Sure, The Bourne Identity strayed wildly from Robert Ludlum's (superior) plot, but at least the basics of the premise remained more or less intact. This is something else, and a huge mistake for the studio, who have a trilogy of books on their hands with the potential to make a blockbuster franchise on their own merit. I suspect all of the intelligent inter-agency squabbling that I enjoyed even more than the action in the novel will be gone as well. Suddenly, this project has gone from being one I was most looking forward to to one that I hope doesn't actually get made--at least in this incarnation.

All that said, assuming that this ludicrous change of direction came from the studio or production company rather than the new creative team, I'm certainly happy to see a writer and director successfully shift from an all-horror filmography to spy movies. The project's latest scribe, Simon Barrett, and director, Adam Wingard, previously collaborated on well-received shockers like A Horrible Way to Die and You're Next, as well as contributing to the anthology titles V/H/S and The ABCs of Death. I look forward to seeing their take on the espionage genre, but I hope that the first thing they do is read the book, and steer the project back in that direction. Can it be improved upon? Sure! I'd welcome that. But not by making the spy a DJ. The basic blueprint is all there in Jon Stock's novel, and the hero as written has all the franchise potential a studio could hope for.

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