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.
Bono, Irish rock band U2's outspoken lead singer, was one of the key--and, of course, more exciting--participants at the World Economic Forum in New York this past week. He was there as a voice for the world's poorer nations, for which Bono has been tirelessly campaigning for many years. He was trying to seek common ground among the conservative U.S. politicians and some of the world's richest men. Of course, the rock star recognized the irony of his own presence.
"The great thing about hanging out with Republicans is that it's very unhip for both of us. There's a parity of pain here," Bono said at a news conference Saturday, referring to his newfound conservative party friends, including Microsoft's Bill Gates and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.
Asia launched its first MTV Asia Awards Saturday, honoring their own homegrown talent. Some artists who picked up awards included Hong Kong singer Sammi Cheng, Philippines favorite Regine Velasquez and martial arts superstar Jackie Chan. Pop singer Mandy Moore and ex-Boyzone front man Ronan Keating hosted the event.
The English mystery The Others took top honors at Spain's Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences awards, the country's equivalent to the Oscars. It took eight awards, including best film and best director. Even though directed by Spanish Alejandro Amenabar, many Spanish filmmakers were upset by the film's recognition.
Richard Gere is doing his part for the people of Tibet. He will speak at Germany's parliament in April to discuss Himalayan human rights and further his fight against Chinese rule there. A devoted Buddhist and friend of the Dalai Lama, Gere has been actively protesting against China for their religious and cultural repression in the Himalayan region.
Musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim and his partner John Weidman settled a lawsuit against producer Scott Rudin and regained the sole rights to the musical Gold!. The Broadway show is about the 19th-century adventures and scams of brothers Wilson and Addison Minzer and will now move forward as planned.
Just when you thought it was safe…Canadian pop diva Celine Dion told Barbara Walters on ABC's 20/20 that she is ready to make a comeback. The singer has taken the last two years off to live a normal life and have a child. Starting next year, Dion will appear five nights a week for three years at Caesar's Palace hotel in Las Vegas for a reported $100 million.
The 16-year-old Robert Iler, who plays sulky teen A.J. Soprano on the hit HBO series The Sopranos, refused a no-jail misdemeanor deal from prosecutors. He is being charged with felony robbery for mugging two teens for $40 last July. Apparently, to cinch the deal, Iler would have to admit in court that he is indeed guilty, something he is not willing to do at this time.
Since the horrors of Sept. 11, contemporary Christian music sales are on the rise. Inspirational bands such as Plus One, Third Day, Jars of Clay and Christian pop singer Jaci Velasquez are topping the charts. "We all grew up in the church and we knew that God had given us a gift, whether it's to sing or whether to play instruments musically," said Plus One band member Jason Perry. "We wanted to be a part of something that we love, but also to bring glory to Jesus Christ."
A Ft.Lauderdale, Fla. judge sent actor Brad Renfro (Ghost World) to jail Tuesday after he turned himself in for a probation violation. Renfro was serving probation for trying to steal a yacht in August 2000 and violated that probation when he got arrested Jan. 14 in Knoxville, Tenn. for driving without a license and public intoxication.
International German star Hildegard Knef, best known for starring as a concentration camp survivor in the 1946 Murderers Are Among Us, the first post-WWII German movie, died of a lung infection Friday in Berlin. She was 76.