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.
Tamyra Gray may not have earned the title of American Idol after her shocking exit from the series last week, but she has become the very first contender to sign a music biz deal. MTV.com reports that 19 Entertainment, founded by show producer Simon Fuller--who has guided the careers of the Spice Girls and Annie Lennox--has picked up an option to manage the 23-year-old singer, once considered by both fans and the judges to be a shoo-in for one of the final slots. Gray's debut won't hit shelves until next year; finalists are barred from releasing any music until three months after the winner's CD is released, likely in September. The show's producers have three months after the Sept. 4 finale to pick up contracts on any of the 10 finalists, who will mount a U.S. tour in October and sing tunes from the show on a compilation album due later this year. Gray told MTV.com leaving Idol was "like stepping out of a bubble and not knowing what to do with yourself."
Country legend Johnny Cash was hospitalized Monday after suffering an allergic reaction to either food or medicine, The Associated Press reports. The Grammy-winning singer's manager, Lou Robin, said the 70-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer may remain at Nashville's Baptist Hospital overnight, but that his doctors didn't think the problem was anything serious. "They're always cautious with any trouble he might have," Robin said. Cash suffers from autonomic neuropathy, a disease of the nervous system that makes him susceptible to pneumonia. He was hospitalized twice last fall for treatment of bronchitis.
American Pie actress Natasha Lyonne pleaded guilty Monday to a DUI charge, the AP reports. The 23-year-old actress will have her driver's license suspended and her car impounded for 10 days, has been fined $255, was sentenced to six months probation plus 50 hours of community service, and must take part in a Mothers Against Drunk Driving panel. Police arrested Lyonne around 2 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2001, after she crashed her rental car. The actress, who was driving with passenger Adam Goldberg (A Beautiful Mind), spent eight hours in the county jail before being released on $2,000 bond, charged with careless driving, leaving the scene of an accident and DUI.
Variety reports commercial and television director Matthew Penn, who's directed everything from Shaquille O'Neal hawking Radio Shack to Tony Soprano's therapy sessions, will make his feature directing debut early next year with The Root, a low-budget, Faustian drama about a chop shop operator whose relationship with a crooked police detective prompts him to try to get out of the stolen parts biz. The Emmy-nominated Penn, who directed the regional theater production of The Root, will direct David Strathairn, Gregory Hines, Karen Allen and Eli Wallach in the film.
Boot Camp returns this fall, but this time celebs will take on the mental and physical challenges set by the show's two former Marine Corps drill instructors. In a two-hour Fox special, Celebrity Boot Camp, the recruits--including rapper Coolio, onetime pop idol Tiffany, Married...With Children's David Faustino, ex-Milli Vanilli member Fabrice Morvan; Baywatch babe Traci Bingham, singer Vitamin C; Lorenzo Lamas; Kato Kaelin, Brady Bunch star Barry Williams and Price Is Right spokesmodel Nikki Schieler Ziering will be eliminated one by one until two are left to compete in a series of eight competitions called the "Gauntlet." Taped at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, the show will air on Sept. 30, according to Variety.
Grab your peroxide: ABC has greenlit a two-hour TV movie prequel to the 1997 feature film Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Variety reports. The project, tentatively titled Romy and Michele: Behind the Velvet Rope, takes place in the early 1990s. The TV movie will recast the titular blondes, played in the film by Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow, and follow them as they head to Hollywood after graduating high school. The teleflick, which is likely to air this coming season, may lead to a series.
A charred guitar set alight onstage by rock legend Jimi Hendrix could become the most expensive guitar ever sold when it goes up for auction in London on Sept. 24, Reuters reports. Hendrix's 1963 Fender Stratocaster is being offered for sale by Dweezil Zappa, son of rock guitarist Frank Zappa, who used it on his own 1976 album "Zoot Allures." London auction house Cooper Owen said the instrument was expected to fetch between $534,000 and $610,000. The Zappas had restored the guitar, which still bears the scars of flames, so it would play. Dweezil, who is selling the guitar to help fund the refurbishment of his father's recording studio, told the Cooper Owen Web site: "Just by looking at the guitar you can sense the history behind the music. It's very inspiring."