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Universal cancels American Gangster

By Brian B. — October 7th, 2004

American Gangster: According to Variety, days after director Antoine Fuqua ankled over creative differences, American Gangster has been rubbed out by Universal Pictures.

Scripted by Steve Zaillian, the film was to star Denzel Washington and Benicio Del Toro. Both actors have pay-or-play deals that will have to be settled out. The pic was to be produced by Imagine's Brian Grazer and begin lensing next month in Harlem.

The film's cancellation came after the studio spent several days trying to find a director to replace Fuqua, one who might have given a hardcore crime film a broader commercial appeal. Ultimately, sources said studio brass decided that the developments would only escalate a budget that was hovering in the $80 million range and would be difficult to recoup given the subject matter.

American Gangster is based on a New York magazine article by Mark Jacobson about Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, who smuggled heroin in the caskets of soldiers killed in Vietnam. He was eventually collared by New York detective Richie Roberts, who got Lucas to turn against his drug compatriots and the crooked cops who made his smuggling scheme possible. Washington was to play Lucas, Del Toro was to play Roberts.

Universal confirmed that the film was finished, citing time constraints and creative elements as its reason.

"We thank the actors and crew who worked on this project for their time and dedication," a spokesman said. "We look forward to making future projects with Denzel Washington, Benicio Del Toro and all of the individuals that were involved in the development of this project."