After the somewhat bizarre casting of up-and-comer Liam Hemsworth in The Expendables 2, a sequel to a film that was seemingly created just to give aging action stars something to do, it should come as little surprise that Thor’s little brother is slowly being styled into more of an action man. But it’s still a bit of an eye-opener that the actor is now set to star alongside no less than The Rock himself. Sorry, “Dwayne Johnson.”

Deadline Toledo reports that Hemsworth is about to close a deal, with Johnson currently negotiating for his role, in indie Empire State. Written by Adam Mazer (Breach, You Don’t Know Jack), the film was once titled The Sentry Keep, and is “based on the true story of a 1982 NYC armored car company robbery thought at the time to be the largest cash heist in U.S. history.” And while that sounds interesting enough, and while the casting of a pretty boy like Hemsworth and a bonafide action star like Johnson only further that interest, what’s most compelling about this story is who is directing it.

Dito Montiel. I guess there are second chances in Hollywood. Montiel is perhaps best known for his feature debut, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Based loosely on his own life, Montiel wrote and directed the film, which starred Robert Downey Jr., Shia LaBeouf, and Channing Tatum (in what I continue to view as Tatum’s finest performance, hands down). A gritty and nostalgic look back at a tough young life, Saints was a fine first film and it seemed to signal a promising career for Montiel. Next up was Fighting, Montiel’s second pairing with Tatum, a lackluster flick about the underground fighting circuit. Not as fiery or gritty or bold as Saints, it could have simply represented a sophomore slump.

And then came The Son of No One. Another Channing Tatum-starrer, the film premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it swiftly became a punchline to any and all jokes about crappy Sundance flicks. The film routinely faced walk-outs, and laughs were reported throughout its runtime – too bad, considering it was meant to be a gritty (of course!) cop drama. The film was eventually released in November, and only stuck around for two weeks in ten theaters, making a dismal $30,000 domestically. Thirty thousand. That’s not a typo.

Could Empire State reestablish Montiel as a director to watch? Possibly. It will be the first time the director works from someone else’s script, and the attachment of a rising star like Hemsworth and an established name like Johnson add heft to the production. We’ll see.

Hemsworth will next be seen in The Hunger Games as Gale Hawthorne, the tougher of lead Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) two suitors. Johnson is (thankfully) signed on for the next two Fast and Furious films, after his kick-ass turn in Fast Five (gimme the vegetables), and will also star in Journey 2, keeping up with his family-friendly sensibilities. Empire State is set to start filming in April. [via The Playlist]

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