EXCLUSIVE: Love it, hate it or try feebly to borrow its tricks, "The Game" has been a bona fide cultural phenomenon since it was published about five years ago. Neil Strauss' memoir/how-to manual on the male-female pick-up scene was the spiritual precursor to "The Pickup Artist," the VH1 reality show that starred book protagonist Mystery, and also gave us a lot of men who thought it was a good idea to go up to women at bars and ask if they believe in spells.
What it has never definitively been is a movie. The book's film rights were optioned by Columbia a few years back, with Chris Weitz initially called on to direct (OK, not the most obvious choice -- but then the "New Moon" director did direct "About a Boy"). But Strauss (or Style, has his pickup alter ego has him) would later win the rights back, gleefully, after the option lapsed.
The film was then set up again, this time as a project to be funded by powerhouse financier Spyglass and produced by Weitz's company, with a script from D.B. Weiss, who's also working on the "I Am Legend" prequel. More recently, Lionsgate came aboard to finance and distribute.
That momentum should give hope to anyone who wants to see the story of a man find his touch with the ladies (don't hide, we know you're out there). But as of this week, the project has lost its director. Rawson Thurber, best known for "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" (whose Peter LaFleur character played by Vince Vaughn isn't all that different from Strauss' everyman in "The Game," come to think of it) had been attached to direct. But Thurber has dropped off and moved on to other films (Thurber's got "Magnum P.I." and other biggies in the hopper), and the word is now out in the development community that Lionsgate is seeking a new director.
There are a lot of names one could imagine for the gig -- it seems like a perfect vehicle for any number of Judd Apatow proteges -- but even more than the person sitting behind the camera, talk of "The Game" makes us wonder what kind of film said director would give us.
You could go bromantic with the movie, take it in a kind of "I Love You, Man" one-man-showing-another-how-to-really-live direction. You could go a little darker and do it as a more grown-up version of "Roger Dodger," a sort of education of a young cad. Or you could go straight Apatow, just turn it into a raunchfest, where a guy spends two hours learning how to pick up women but eventually ends up with a likable sweet one (played by Leslie Mann, of course).
At the very least, we're happy there are no signs of turning this into a remake of the 1987 James Toback-Robert Downey Jr. collaboration "The Pick-up Artist " -- though we're sure somehow, somewhere, someone is thinking of that too. Poor average frustrated chumps.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: "The Game." Credit: Canongate Books