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: Sharon Osbourne Reveals Brief Past Split
Osbourne family matriarch Sharon told Barbara Walters in an interview for ABC's 20/20 set to air Friday that she briefly left her husband, Ozzy, this spring. The separation happened while the family was waiting for a bed to become available at a treatment center for their teenage son, Jack. Sharon said she was miffed that Ozzy continued abusing alcohol and prescription drugs while Jack was in rehab and gave her hubby an ultimatum. "I just said, 'You just have to stop,' and he didn't. And I said, 'Well then, I'm going.' I packed my bags, and I left," Sharon told Walters. But Sharon adds that the separation only lasted a few days. "The minute I left, the next morning he gave up drinking. But I needed to make sure that he was on a roll. That he really meant it," she said. "And, after four days, I came back to see him. And he was trying so hard, so hard. Still is clean and sober." The 17-year-old Jack, who gained notoriety with the rest of his family on the MTV series The Osbournes, admitted he tried to commit suicide by taking pills and drinking absinthe. In April, he started a two-month stint in a rehab facility for alcohol and drug abuse. Sharon's syndicated daytime talk show, meanwhile, debuts on Monday.
Michael Jackson Loses Property Tax Break
Singer Michael Jackson, who has been receiving about $70,000 a year in tax breaks on his Santa Ynez Valley ranch for the last decade, has agreed to remove unapproved development on part of his 2,600-acre Neverland Ranch from state agricultural protections, The Associated Press reports. An investigation by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors found that Jackson had failed to file building permits on much of the development on his Neverland estate over the past 10 years. But although the pop oddity has agreed to remove his house, amusement park, zoo and several other structures from the state Williamson Act agricultural preserve program, supervisors are still considering legal action to collect back taxes and possibly fines for permit and zoning violations.
Tribune Acquires Sex and the City Rights
The broadcasting unit of Tribune Co. has acquired rights to HBOs hit series Sex and the City, but fans will have to wait two years to catch the toned-down reruns. According to the AP, the show will air on the company's 26 major-market stations six days a week, beginning in September 2005. The show, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon, is in its final season on HBO. Tribune Co., whose stations reach more than 80 percent of U.S. television households, did not say how much it paid for paid for syndication rights.
Two Towers DVD Still Reigns
New Line Home Entertainment's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers continued its reign in the home video industry in its second week of release. According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Two Towers earned an estimated $15.23 million in gross rental revenue in its second week. During its debut week ending Sept. 1, the DVD also set this year's Day 1 top-selling DVD record and Week 1 top-renting home video of all time, topping $100 million in estimated gross consumer spending in just five days on store shelves.
Omar Sharif Through With "Ali Baba Stuff"
Film legend Omar Sharif, who has starred in the classics Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, said he is fed up with "useless" films. "When I was a star, when I was younger, they used to write parts or adapt parts for me so that I could play them. But now that I'm old, there's no parts for me except old Arabs," the 71-year-old Oscar-nominated actor told Reuters. "There are parts of old Arabs sometimes but in terrible films, cheap, stupid films, Ali Baba-type of stuff," Sharif said. "I decided I wouldn't make any more stupid films."
Hogan's Heroes's Larry Hovis Dies
Actor Larry Hovis, who played Sgt. Carter in the 1960s TV series Hogan's Heroes, died Tuesday after a battle with cancer, Reuters reports. He was 67. Hovis was best known for his work in the long-running World War II comedy series but also had a recurring role in the television show Gomer Pyle, USMC and was a creator and performer on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.. Hovis taught acting and characterization at a college in the central Texas town of San Marcos in 1990. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday at the school's Theater Center.
Role Call: Ridley Scott Talks Gladiator 2, Rodriguez, Molina Join Sian Ka'an
Director Ridley Scott tells Empire Online that the draft for Gladiator 2 is written, but don't expect to any of Russell Crowe's character: The story picks up where the first film left off and will take place entirely outside the Coliseum. "I wouldn't touch the gladiatorial side again, we have to go to the next step," Scott said. "There will be more politics and praetorians." No casting decisions have yet been made … Variety reports Michelle Rodriguez and Alfred Molina have joined the voice cast of Sian Ka'an, the first Hispanic-themed and -produced animated feature. The duo joins Placido Domingo and Cheech Marin in the project, which centers on a young girl in small-town Mexico must rescue her father and save the Golden Snail from extinction. Produced by Puerto Rico-based MUVI Films, "Sian Ka'an" is being directed by Raul Garcia and is due to start production in November.