’s a bit premature to declare the post-9/11 Middle East drama a complete non-starter for American audiences (it used to be that baseball films were considered commercial poison), but one more box office disappointment (like, say, Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs) could cause a citywide greenlight outage. This is why, looming WGA strike be damned (and a full union walkout might’ve been dammed today thanks to mean ol’ Nick Counter taking the residuals revamp off the table), I’ll wait and see what happens with this fall’s remaining entries in the nascent genre before declaring Hany Abu-Assad’s The Vanished a go picture.

Ten years ago, the presence of Nicolas Cage playing the father of a "college-aged American-born Muslim son" who goes missing overseas might’ve been enough to cancel out the tepid grosses for The Kingdom and In the Valley of Elah; in 2007, however, he’s just another semi-bankable actor looking to book work before a big, pussy version of Matewan breaks out. With principal photography not scheduled to begin until spring ’08, there’s still plenty of time for Focus Features to shitcan this project.

As the studio debut of Abu-Assad, who appeared primed to sellout after his visually arresting, but intellectually malnourished Paradise Now, the movie is of some interest; anyone this talented and this willing to trivialize tragic, real-world conflicts is a sure bet to win an Oscar at some point in their career. That said, he’s good enough to make a great film if armed with the right material. Maybe The Vanished, written by Larysa Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan, is the script that could redeem his past cinematic sin (I’d go plural, but I haven’t seen Abu-Assad’s other features!).

Noah Rosen, David Alpert and Tracy Seward will produce.  I dig their work.