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: Queer Quintet To Get Raises
NBC-owned Bravo is close to signing a fabulous renewal deal for a second season of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. A source told The Hollywood Reporter the show's creators are negotiating with the network for an order of about 40 episodes. The show's "Fab Five"-- Carson Kressley, Thom Filicia, Jai Rodriguez, Ted Allen and Kyan Douglas--are also close to completing a deal that calls for six consecutive one-year contracts with 5 percent annual raises. According to contracts made available on the Smoking Gun Web site, the five signed on to the Queer Eye for the measly sum of $3,000 each per episode. Bravo had already ordered as many as seven additional episodes that are expected to go into production next week, according to the Reporter.
Fox Sued Over Gentlemen
Producer Martin Poll and screenwriter Larry Cohen filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court accusing 20th Century Fox of stealing their ideas for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen starring Sean Connery. The movie is based on a comic book in which the main characters, including Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Capt. Nemo and Dracula vampiress Mina Harker, were lifted from the pages of Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Bram Stoker and other writers whose copyrights have entered the public domain. According to The Associated Press, Cohen and Poll say they discussed a similar idea with Fox executives in 1993, only then the movie was called Cast of Characters. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $100 million.
Zeta-Jones Sues Cosmetic Company
Catherine Zeta-Jones filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court seeking $15 million from the cosmetics firm Caudalie for running an ad campaign claiming the actress "was spotted buying the complete Caudalie range of skincare" and had used the company's anti-aging spa in Las Vegas, the AP reports. The Chicago Oscar winner says in her lawsuit that she has never purchased such products, nor did she receive services from the spa. Zeta-Jones, who has an exclusive deal to promote Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, claims the company had no right to use her name in promotions.
Bruce Willis Entertains Troops in Iraq
Bruce Willis and band the Accelerators entertained hundreds of soldiers Thursday night in Telafar, Iraq, about 35 miles from the Syrian border. Willis, sometimes sporting a military hat or a military jacket over his sweat pants, sang mostly oldies as he and his band stood atop two flatbed trailer trucks, the AP reports. Most soldiers said they didn't know Willis was a singer and had a band, but they reportedly liked what they heard. "He's my favorite actor and my age," Col. Michael Linnington, commander of the brigade's "Iron Rakkasans"--the 187th Infantry Regiment. "He's a macho actor. Soldiers identify with action movies and action actors. He's a guy's guy."
Sky TV Gets Bill From London Police
Magician David Blaine, who has suspended in a box from a crane above the River Thames in London in his quest to go 44 days without food, is proving to be a costly affair for his sponsor. Sky television, the network filming him, has been hit with a bill from the capital's police force. According to Reuters, London's police chief Sir John Stevens said Thursday the circus surrounding the stunt had become so expensive to police he would now make the stuntman's sponsors foot the bill. Blaine's scheduled to climb down from the box October 19.
Madonna's English Roses Tops Best-Seller List
Madonna's children's book The English Roses, which was published simultaneously around the world Sept. 15, will top The New York Times' children's list for the Oct. 5 edition, the AP reports. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales in the United States, Madonna's book sold 57,369 copies in its first full week, ranking No. 5 overall. The top seller was Dr. Phil McGraw's The Ultimate Weight Solution, which sold 215,536 copies.
Role Call: Will Farrell To Voice Man in Yellow
Saturday Night Live alum Will Ferrell has signed on to provide the voice of the Man in the Yellow Hat for the animated big screen version of the children's classic Curious George. According to Variety, the Universal Pictures project will be an all-new adventure based upon the title character, an inquisitive monkey transplanted from the jungle to the big city by the Man in the Yellow Hat. The movie is slated for release Nov. 4, 2005.