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.
Maybe it was the 3-D glasses that helped, but the game went into overtime this weekend for Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.The third installment in the franchise about a family of super spies took the top spot with a healthy $32.5 million*, making it the highest opener of the three. The first Spy Kids opened 2001 with $26.5 million, while the second, Spy Kids: Island of Lost Dreams, opened 2002 with $18.7 million. The ghostly swashbuckler Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl held on to second place with $22.4 million while the naughty actioner Bad Boys II dropped from the top of the heap last week to third with $22 million, barely slipping under Pirates .Not as many people, however, cared to see Angelina Jolie strut her stuff again. The outrageously stunt-laden sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life opened at No. 4 with $21.7 million, making less than half of what the original 2001 smash hit Lara Croft: Tomb Raider did when it opened at $47.7 million. The heart-tugging Depression drama Seabiscuit rounded out the top five's home stretch with $21.5 million, though it managed to take the highest per average screening award; opening in 1,989 theaters, its $10,809 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this weekend.Other notable indies opening this week included the Bob Dylan starrer Masked and Anonymous, which debuted at $32,167, and the controversial Buffalo Soldiers at $29,000.Overall, box office numbers were up this week, nearly 10 percent from the same weekend last year and nearly 6 percent from last weekend. THE TOP TENDimension Films' PG-rated Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over premiered at the top of the box office with an ESTIMATED $32.5 million in 3,344 theaters ($9,719 per theater).In this third installment, junior agents Juni and Carmen Cortez have to go into a video game and shut it down before it and its creator can take over the world.Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Sylvester Stallone, Salma Hayek and Ricardo Montalban.Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13 rated fantasy actioner Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl held on to second in its third week with an ESTIMATED $22.4 million (-34%) at 3,416 theaters (+57 theaters; $6,557 per theater). Its cume is $176.1 million.Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.Sony Picture's R rated buddy actioner Bad Boys II dropped from its first place perch to third with an ESTIMATED $22 million (-53%) at 3,202 theaters (+16 theaters; $6,871 per theater). This high-octane sequel, which follows narcotics detectives Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett in another case, has made $88.4 million so far.Directed by Michael Bay, it stars Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jordi Molla, Gabrielle Union and Peter Stormare.Paramount Pictures' PG-13-rated action-packed Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life debuted at a disappointing fourth place with an ESTIMATED $21.7 million in 3,222 theaters ($6,754 per theater).In her latest adventure pic, Lara Croft journeys to an underwater temple in search of lost treasures. During her expedition, she stumbles upon a sphere that contains the key to Pandora's box.Directed by Jan De Bont, it stars Angelina Jolie, Gerald Butler, Chris Barrie, Ciaran Hinds and Noah Taylor.Universal Pictures' PG-13-rated tear-jerker Seabiscuit opened with an ESTIMATED $21.5 million in 1,989 theaters. Its $10,809 per theater was the highest average of any film playing wide this week.Set in the 1930s, this is a true story about a down-and-out racehorse named Seabiscuit pulled out of obscurity by three men and turned into a national hero.Directed by Gary Ross, it stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper. *Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.As the box office numbers dropped off considerably, Warner Bros.' R rated sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines fell two places to No. 6 in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $5 million (-46%) at 2,689 theaters (-744; $1,895 per theater). Its cume is approximately $137.4 million.Directed by Jonathan Mostow, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken.Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated period thriller The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen crashed four places to come in seventh place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-52%) at 2,532 theaters (-470; $1,919 per theater). Its cume is approximately $52.7 million.Directed by Stephen Norrington, it stars Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West and Jason Flemyng.Universal Pictures' PG rated spy spoof Johnny English slipped three places to No. 8 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $4.3 million (53%) at 2,236 theaters ($1,923 per theater). Its cume is 18.4 million.In the film, the British Secret Service calls upon bumbling secret agent Johnny English when a plan to filch the monarchy's Crown Jewels comes to their attention.Directed by Peter Howitt, it stars Rowan Atkinson, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller and John Malkovich.Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G rated computer-animated feature Finding Nemo fell three spots in its ninth week to No. 9 with an ESTIMATED $4 million (-45%) at 2,025 theaters (-455 theaters; $1,975 per theater). Its cume is approximately $312.6 million.Directed and co-written by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, it features the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe and Brad Garrett.MGM's PG-13 rated Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde rounded out the top ten in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.6 million (-57%) at 2,120 theaters (-1,085 theaters; $1,250 per theater). Its cume is approximately $82.1 million. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King, Bob Newhart and Jennifer Coolidge. OTHER OPENINGSSony Pictures Classics' PG-13-rated Masked and Anonymous debuted with an ESTIMATED $32,167 in 4 theaters ($8,042 per theater). Set somewhere, sometime in an unnamed country torn by civil war, concert promoter Uncle Sweetheart is scheming to find a headliner for a benefit show--benefitting himself, that is. Veteran TV producer Nina Veronica is put on the job to make sure the concert is an international spectacle. The clincher? Uncle Sweetheart manages to get the iconic cult star Jack Fate, just released from prison, to perform.Directed by Larry Charles, it stars John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Jeff Bridges, Angela Bassett and Bob Dylan, in his screen debut.Miramax Film's R-rated Buffalo Soldiers opened with an ESTIMATED $29,000 in 6 theaters ($4,833 per theater).In Stuttgart, West Germany in 1989, just as the Berlin Wall is about to fall, Ray Elwood of the 317th Supply Battalion has turned his military servitude into a blossoming network of black market deals--more out of boredom than ambition. When a new top sergeant arrives with the avowed intention of cleaning up the base, Elwood thinks can handle the new blood. If he could only find out what to do with the $5 million in stolen arms that just landed in his lap…Directed by Gregor Jordan, it stars Joaquin Phoenix, Scott Glenn, Anna Paquin and Ed Harris.WEEKEND COMPARISONThe Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $145.5 million, up 9.91 percent from last year's take of $132.4 million. The Top 12 films were also up 5.20 percent from last weekend when they grossed $138.3 million.Last year's top three included: New Line Cinema's PG-13-rated Austin Powers in Goldmember debuted on top with $73 million in 3,613 theaters ($20,225 per theater); DreamWorks' R rated drama Road to Perdition came in second in its third week of release with $11.1 million at 2,250 theaters (+91 theaters; $4,936 per theater average), Sony's G rated Stuart Little 2 dropped to third in its second week with $10.6 million at 3,282 theaters (+ 27; $3,233 per theater).
Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.
The tall and lanky redhead from Australia is the toast of the town these days. Nicole Kidman just won a Golden Globe for her performance in last year's Moulin Rouge and is on just about everyone's A-list; she's probably thinking, "It's about freaking time!"
Joining the long list of projects she has been attached to recently--including Lars von Trier's Dogville and Robert Benton's The Human Stain with Anthony Hopkins--Kidman has made a deal to develop Court and Spark (hey, isn't that a Joni Mitchell album?) with Fox Searchlight.
Court is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who married the King of France (Louis VII), started an affair with the King of England (Henry II), had her marriage to Louis annulled and eventually married Henry. Eleanor was flamboyant, beautiful and rich and it was her ardent wish to rule France. Unfortunately, her gender got in the way.
I can see Kidman playing Eleanor, but does anyone remember the exquisite Katharine Hepburn playing the colorful queen in 1968's The Lion in Winter, opposite Peter O'Toole as England's King Henry? Well, you should.
Hepburn only won an Academy Award for it, for heaven's sakes. Nicole might do well to watch this film a few hundred times to see how a great actress of our time portrays a great queen of all time.
Rock gets bit by the directing bug
Let's see how fast-talking, establishment-bucking comedian Chris Rock does at directing his first major motion picture. Rock has chosen DreamWorks' political comedy Head of State as his first foray behind the lens--of course, he'll also star in the film. Rock plays a Washington, D.C. city alderman who's thrust into the nation's presidential race as a replacement for a deceased candidate.
Not the greatest sounding premise but it has some potential. Rock needs to watch out for the Eddie Murphy syndrome, though. Murphy once tried his hand at a political comedy too (Distinguished Gentleman) and it failed miserably. Be careful, Chris.
Coming to theaters soon: The Olsen twins!
Lose your mind! Those too-cute-for-words teen stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen hit the silver screen once again, following their first attempt in 1995's It Takes Two. Forget about those measly home videos and television movies and specials. The big screen is where it's at.
The project for Warner Bros. is being kept under close wraps, but the film is said to be a comedy and will certainly set the blossoming teenagers on yet another fun-filled adventure. The girls recently bowed out of their ABC Family series So Little Time so they could pursue other ventures, including their fashion line and feature films.
How did these two manage to build an incredible empire at such a tender age? It really boggles the mind.
Downey's second (and third and fourth) chance
Robert Downey Jr. has enough lives to rival any cat. As screwed-up the guy is in his personal life, he is still the consummate professional and Hollywood is going to keep working with him until he either straightens out for good--or finally kicks it. Not to mention, I'll go see just about anything he does.
He's in negotiations to star in Six Bullets From Now, a film inspired by the real-life events of New Year's Day 1972, when five gunmen stole more than $10 million in cash and jewels from the Pierre's Hotel in New York City in broad daylight. The theft led to a massive FBI manhunt.
Ridley Scott is producing the flick under his Scott Free Productions shingle.
Bridges is a "Giver"
Jeff Bridges will star and produce the feature film The Giver based on the 1994 novel by Lois Lowry--and folks, the plotline is a doozy. I'm just going to have to take it word-for-word from the Hollywood Reporter article:
"Described as being in the vein of 1984 and Brave New World, the book carries the theme of sacrificing humanity for societal stability. It presents a world without pain, pleasure, racial or socioeconomic differences, crime, poverty, sickness, free will or love. In the community, every member has a role, and 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community's Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of a wise old man known as the Giver (Bridges), he gradually discovers the disturbing truth about his world: that its people have chosen to give up their humanity to create a more stable society. They must now struggle against the weight of this hypocrisy."
Wow. That's going to be a bright and cheery film. I can't wait.
Peter Pan, Wendy, Tinkerbell, Hook, The Lost Boys--all your favorite Peter Pan characters get to come to life when Revolution Studios, along with Walt Disney Co. and Sony's Columbia Pictures, bring the endearing J.M. Barrie story to the big screen in a live-action motion picture.
Of course, the story has been done and done--on television, on film, on stage--but we're always game for another rendition, especially when they are talking to the likes of Jason Isaacs (The Patriot) to play Captain Hook. But we are also a tad skeptical. Remember Steven Spielberg's lame attempt to bring an updated Pan to screen with Hook? Yikes. I can tell you one thing: they are not going to approach Julia Roberts to play Tinkerbell.