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: Coppola's Film a Hit, Banderas' Film Booed
Making its debut Sunday, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation is generating a huge buzz at the Venice Film Festival, wowing audiences and critics alike, Reuters reports. Star Bill Murray is getting particular notice for his deadpan performance as a has-been actor who strikes up a friendship with a bored young wife (Scarlett Johansson). "These are some of the most satisfying laughs I've ever got in the movies," said Murray. Meanwhile, the drama Imagining Argentina, starring Antonio Banderas, got a less than warm reception when audiences literally booed it at Monday's screening, Reuters reports. The film tells the story of thousands of Argentines who were killed or "disappeared" during the 1976-1983 period of dictatorship and focuses on one character (Banderas) who uses psychic powers to try and find his missing journalist wife (played by Emma Thompson).
Lewis Telethon Hits $60 Mil Mark
The nearly 22-hour Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon broke its own record Monday by receiving a whopping $60.5 million in nationwide pledges for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, The Associated Press reports. "I'm consistently humbled by the generosity of the American public. Every year I ask, and without blinking, you open your hearts and wallets," Lewis said. "You've also let 'my kids' of all ages, and their loved ones, know that they aren't alone in this fight." Ed McMahon co-hosted with the 77-year-old comedian, his body bloated due to steroid medication he takes for pulmonary fibrosis, while entertainers such as Cher, Celine Dion and Don Rickles performed.
VMAs Couldn't Top Last Year's Ratings
Despite pop diva Madonna and pop princess Britney Spears' kiss, the 20th annual MTV Video Music Awards couldn't top last year's ratings. The Thursday night broadcast, hosted by acerbic comedian Chris Rock, drew 10.7 million total viewers, down from the record 12 million who watched last year, Reuters reports. It did, however, get the highest concentration for 12-34 viewers on cable for the year to date.
De Laurentiis Awarded Golden Lion
With more than 60 films and 30 Academy Award nominations under his belt, producing giant Dino De Laurentiis was awarded a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement Monday at the Venice Film Festival, Reuters reports. "Each movie is a son, they are all my children," De Laurentiis said at the press conference. The 84-year-old producer is currently busy on the film adaptation of Alexander the Great's life, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Baz Luhrmann.
Rodriguez Won't Take Maid Roles
Tough gal Michelle Rodriguez, currently starring in the police drama S.W.A.T., vows she will never play a maid in a movie. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Rodriguez said she was recently handed "a script about a Latina maid…I was, like, 'You must be on drugs, right?'" The actress said the roles are exploitative and asked, "Where is the movie with the blue-eyed, blonde-haired maid? There are tons of them out there." Hmm, maybe she had a bad experience playing a hotel maid who surfs in last year's Blue Crush.
Daly's Show Gets Third Go-Around
Carson Daly's very late night show Last Call with Carson Daly was given the thumbs up for a third season, Variety reports. The show has been generating solid ratings in its 1:35-2:35 a.m. timeslot. "The bottom line is that when we first started this show, we were careful about rolling out a big television show," exec producer David Friedman told Variety. "Here we are two years later, and it's time we made this show look and feel as big as it has become."
Grace Will Grace '70s Show a Little Longer
That '70s Show star Topher Grace signed a new lucrative deal with Fox and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach production to stay on the sitcom through a potential 2004-05 season, Variety reports. The actor is the last cast member to work out an agreement, as the production company already locked deals with the show's other stars, including Ashton Kutcher.
Brosnan Stops Cybersquatter
Actor Pierce Brosnan has won a legal battle against a company that was a front for the well-known cybersquatter Jeff Burgar, who redirected piercebrosnan.com to a commercial Web site. What's a cybersquatter, you may ask? The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) describes the term as someone who "constitutes a pattern of conduct intended to capitalize on the goodwill associated with others' fame for its own illegitimate purposes," Reuters reports. Burgar has 10 days to appeal the ruling, after which time the site name will be transferred back to Brosnan, Reuters reports. The cybersquatter has also been involved in several other disputes over celebrity Web sites and has lost cases against singer Celine Dion, rock group Pearl Jam and actress Pamela Anderson.
Kindly chemistry whiz Sherman (Eddie Murphy) has found the love of his life in cutie colleague Denise (Janet Jackson) who appreciates the heart of gold beneath his extra-large exterior. But the hero's happiness is threatened when his irrepressible alter-ego Buddy Love (Murphy) reappears with a scheme to wreak havoc with Sherman's newly discovered youth potion.
"The Klumps" displays Murphy's remarkable talent for submerging himself in diverse characters even more prominently than the original did. He impressively expands upon the four Klump family members he plays with the aid of Rick Baker's Oscar-winning prosthetic makeup effects -- especially his hilarious turn as sex-crazed Granny Klump. Larry Miller is amusingly caustic as the dean of Sherman's college while pop diva Jackson deserves credit simply for keeping a straight face opposite Murphy's various incarnations.
Peter Segal ("Tommy Boy") hands in a polished if not particularly inspired piece of broad comedy that achieves its primary purpose -- staying out of Murphy's way as he works his special magic. The filmmakers pay little attention to the brainless shamelessly mechanical plotline devoting nearly all their energy to fart and sex gags that if anything aim lower than the original film's. We're talking about a flick draws one of its biggest laughs from a character getting sodomized by a giant hamster. Baby that's nasty!