Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Top Story: More Absences on Raymond Set
As production for the season premiere of CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond got under way Monday, two more co-stars--Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts--called in sick, while Brad Garrett remained on strike asking for an increase in salary, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Patricia Heaton, however, returned to work on Monday after calling in sick last week and delaying production. Dale Olson, a spokesman for Roberts, told The Reporter the actress was still grappling with pain from a knee injury she sustained Aug. 7 during a photo shoot for Glamour magazine at her Hollywood Hills home. "She has nothing to do at all with what else is going on there," Olson said. "It is just unfortunate timing." The trade paper reports a source close to the show said that Boyle has been struggling in recent months with adverse reactions to a prescription drug.
Azaria Wins Emmy in Animation
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced Monday winners of the 55th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in selected animation categories, also called juried awards, which do not have nominations and may include more than one winner in each category judged by members of ATAS' animation peer group, Reuters reports. Hank Azaria won his third Emmy for his voiceover work on Fox's The Simpsons. Other winners included technical awards for Cartoon Network's Samurai Jack and HBO's Through a Child's Eye: September 11, 2001 . The juried animation awards will be presented Sept. 13 at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Reuters reports. The remaining Emmy Awards will be handed out Sept. 21.
Mystic Kicks Off New York Film Festival
Clint Eastwood's mystery/drama Mystic River will open the 41st annual New York Film Festival Oct. 3. Reminiscent of the Cannes Film Festival, other films in competition at the NY Film Fest includes Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Lars Von Trier's Dogville and Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions. The festival runs Oct. 3-19.
Ferrell Honored by ShowEast
Former Saturday Night Live alum Will Ferrell will received the comedy star of the year award at ShowEast 2003, Variety reports. His upcoming film Elf, co-starring James Caan, Ed Asner and Bob Newhart, will be also shown at ShowEast. "Will Ferrell has proven to be one of the most exciting, versatile talents in comedy, and Elf represents a major step in his career, making it the ideal linchpin for this much-deserved award," ShowEast co-director Mitch Neuhauser told Variety. ShowEast is scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Orlando, Fla.
ABC Family has pulled the plug on Roseanne Barr's upcoming cooking show Domestic Goddess due to the actress's health problems, The Associated Press reports. The 50-year-old Barr is scheduled to undergo a planned hysterectomy on Wednesday and had only recently begun production on the new show, which was to begin airing Sept. 20. The reality show The Real Roseanne Show, which chronicled the development of Goddess, has been playing on ABC since Aug. 6. Despite low ratings, the reality show will run through Sept. 17.
Actor Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro on the popular '60s TV show The Beverly Hillbillies, is planning to capitalize on the show's theme by building a $54 million Hillbillies-style hotel-casino resort in Reno, Nevada, called appropriately Jethro's Beverly Hillbillies Mansion and Casino, AP reports. Some of the highlights will include a 200-foot-tall, flame-belching oil derrick, a "Granny's Shotgun Wedding Chapel," "Uncle Jed's Gift Shop," "Jethro's Buffet" and "Elly May's Buns Bakery." Baer also envisions a nine-screen movie theater and a dancehall-show lounge, AP reports.
T3 DVD Release To Follow Schwarzenegger's Political Run
Whether he'll be governor of California or not, the two-disc DVD of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines will be released Nov. 11, a month after California's gubernatorial recall election, AP reports. Schwarzenegger and director Jonathan Mostow recorded a commentary for the Warner Home Video version, which includes additional scenes, an on-set gag reel and four visual effects labs that allow viewers to build their own action scene, AP reports.
Rock Singer Gets Three Years Probation
Scott Weiland, lead singer for the band Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, was sentenced last Thursday to three years' probation on two felony drug possession charges, Reuters reports. Weiland, 35, was arrested in May during a traffic stop in Burbank, Calif., when police found drug paraphernalia inside the car. Weiland went to prison in 1999 on similar drug charges after he repeatedly violated his probation and failed to complete a rehab program. This time the singer is required to continue counseling and rehab sessions, as well as submit to random drug testing.