It really could have been a contender: a down and dirty seventies-homaging action drama channelling The Getaway and Alfredo Garcia (or at least Way of the Gun). Cartel, a refit of the 1993 Italian gangster flick La Scorta, was once set to star Sean Penn but picked up Josh Brolin along the way instead: a man who, more than anyone currently in Hollywood, is fit to wear the scuffed trousers of Warren Oates.
But no more. Cartel, like Moneyball before it, has hit the skids, five weeks before Asger Leth was due to start shooting Peter Craig's script in Mexico.
Universal's official statement runs thusly: "Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment ceased pre-production of Cartel today. As much as we had hoped to begin filming this spring in Mexico City, the studio and its producing partners did not feel it was creatively ready to move forward under the timetable and budget we had established. We thank all of the filmmakers, cast and crew for their work during pre-production."
But Deadline suggest that Universal's decision is due to lacklustre box office for other recent "adult" dramas like Green Zone and Repo Men. Which is rather depressing, suggesting as it does a studio not "creatively ready" to get going on anything that teenage mallrats aren't likely to be particularly struck by.
Take heart from Deadline's reminder however, that the Antoine Fuqua / Denzel Washington / Benicio Del Toro incarnation of American Gangster was initially scrapped by Universal, only to be resurrected for Denzel, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. There may be a sliver of hope for Cartel yet. In 3D, with some giant scorpions.