A gangling song-and-dance man with extensive TV and stage credits, Carpenter also made his brief mark in a handful of MGM musicals which embodied the small-town vision of the USA so prevalent in the 1...
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
Follow Thomas Leupp on Twitter.
Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter.
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.
Returned to films again to play a role in "Some of My Best Friends Are"
Toured with carnival during the summer at age nine, working as a magician
Joined the Navy during WWII, serving with the Seabees in the South Pacific (Date approximate)
Was featured in the stage musical "Legacy", produced in San Jose, California
Left MGM; last film there, "Take the High Ground"
Returned to films after a six-year absence with a supporting role in "Up Periscope"
Played first leading roles in features in "Sky Full of Moon" and "Fearless Fagan"
Returned to films again to play supporting roles in "Simon" and "The Prowler"
Started singing and dancing professionally at age four
Returned to Broadway to take over the role of Everett Baker, the leading lady's father, in the longrunning musical comedy revamp of the Gershwins' 1930 "Girl Crazy", "Crazy for You"
Put under contract at MGM
Starred alongside Edgar Buchanan in a two-part comedy pilot for CBS, broadcast as part of "Vacation Playhouse", "Luke and the Tenderfoot"
Played the recurring role of Jerry Franklin on the CBS comedy, "Pete and Gladys", starring Harry Morgan and Cara Williams in the title roles
Broadway debut, "Bright Boy"
made feature film debut in "Lost Boundaries"
Played Cornelius Hackle in the stage musical comedy "Hello, Dolly!", first with Ginger Rogers and Betty Grable in the title role, later with Carol Channing on tour and with Mary Martin in productions staged in Japan, Vietnam and Korea
A gangling song-and-dance man with extensive TV and stage credits, Carpenter also made his brief mark in a handful of MGM musicals which embodied the small-town vision of the USA so prevalent in the 1950s. Thin as a rail and standing 6'3", Carpenter possessed a handsomely boyish face and loads of eager-beaver energy to match, all honed during a childhood spent as a performer. He was singing and dancing at age four and, by the time he was nine, was performing as a child magician in traveling carnivals. Carpenter served briefly with the Navy Seabees in WWII and made it to Broadway in his late teens in "Bright Boy" (1944). After making his feature debut in the sincere, low-budget, independently made film about a light-skinned African-American family passing for white, "Lost Boundaries" (1949), he was signed by MGM.
Carpenter quickly made a fun impression in the Metro musical when Debbie Reynolds, portraying Jazz Age "boop oop a doop" singer Helen Kane in "Three Little Words" (1950), cooed (in Kane's voice) "I Wanna Be Loved by You" to an amusingly deadpanned Carpenter. Reynolds and Carpenter reteamed for one of his most famous career moments, dueting on the smash comic hit "Aba Daba Honeymoon" in "Two Weeks with Love" (1950), which went on to sell over five million copies. He continued in comedies, dramas and musicals at MGM for the next few years, generally more at home in lighter fare, but his leading roles in "Fearless Fagan" and "Sky Full of Moon" (both 1952) did not establish him as a new star.
Carpenter kept working onstage, though, and also began his incredibly prolific career on TV. He gave an amusing turn as the flaming photographer Russell in a TV version of the musical "Lady in the Dark" (1954) and, over the years, played a recurring role on the CBS sitcom "Pete and Gladys" (1961-62), acted on "Perry Mason" and did guest stints on game shows. A starring role in the two-part special "Luke and the Tenderfoot" (1965) suggested that his perennial youthfulness limited him in middle age, but Carpenter went on to rack up over 6,000 TV appearances, toured widely in "Hello, Dolly!" with various star divas in the title role, and began publishing mystery novels. A handful of feature film returns included a teaming with old 1950s pal Farley Granger for the derivative horror film "The Prowler" (1981). He also made welcome returns to the stage, such as his assuming the role of the heroine's father on Broadway in the longrunning, nostalgic "Crazy for You" in the 90s.