In his new film Due Date director Todd Phillips (Old School The Hangover) stages a rather audacious cinematic experiment placing two enormously talented actors Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis on a mostly deserted island handing them an assortment of blunt and broken tools and charging them with constructing a free-standing fully-functioning Hollywood comedy.
To his credit Phillips was at least considerate enough to supply his comic Crusoes with a detailed blueprint. An odd-couple/road trip movie hybrid Due Date unapologetically mimics Planes Trains and Automobiles one of the John Hughes' rare “grown-up” comedies in which Steve Martin starred as a straightlaced family man forced to travel cross-country with a gratingly affable slob played by John Candy in order to make it home for Thanksgiving. (Surely there have been other such films before and since but Hughes’ work is the one Due Date most vividly recalls.)
The film’s script co-written by Phillips and Adam Sztykiel adds a handful of 21st-century twists to the formula: A baggage snafu while boarding an airplane leads Peter Highman (Downey) a type-A architect with a history of anger-management issues into a confrontation with a Federal Air Marshal that subsequently lands him on Homeland Security’s no-fly list. Stranded without reliable transport lacking the means by which to procure any (he left his wallet on the plane) and desperate to be reunited in L.A. with his pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) in time for her scheduled c-section he reluctantly agrees to hitch a ride with the same tubby schmuck Ethan (Galifianakis) who moments earlier was the catalyst of his security debacle.
The unlikely travel companions embark on a calamitous road trip from Atlanta to L.A. during which Ethan proves to be something of a disaster magnet with Peter bearing the brunt of the damage that occurs. Their navigator Phillips lazily guides them through an uneven obstacle course of comic scenarios some of which are embarrassingly predictable (Ethan stores his beloved father’s ashes in a coffee can and they’re later accidentally used to make coffee!) all of which are designed to showcase Downey’s caustic wit and Galifianakis’ sublime daffiness.
Few actors today deliver choice insults better than Downey and even fewer absorb them better than Galifianakis. They make for a truly marvelous collision of opposites and their interplay is what elevates Due Date above its often puzzlingly flat material. (That along with Galifianakis’ gift for physical comedy; no actor outside of the Jackass crew can better sell a collision with a car door.) The film's supporting cast meanwhile criminally underachieves. Conspicuous cameos from the likes of Danny McBride Juliette Lewis and Jamie Foxx are either unfunny unnecessary or both. On this road trip they’re little more than baggage. Thankfully Downey and Galifianakis are more than capable of shouldering the burden.
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.
Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), Franka Potente (Run Lola Run) and Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember) are set to star in the romantic comedy Try Seventeen. According to Variety, the film centers on a young man who sets off for college but ends up learning more about life from the eccentric inhabitants of his apartment building. The project will be helmed by Jeffrey Porter and should begin shooting in March.
Kung fu film master Jackie Chan suffered a minor injury while performing a stunt during the shooting of a movie outside Bangkok, but was back on the set Tuesday. The Hong Kong actor bruised his face during the incident Monday, and was kept in a hospital for four hours, the Associated Press reports.
Sigourney Weaver has been cast in director Andrew Davis' (Collateral Damage) next film, Variety reports. Holes, about a young boy falsely accused of stealing a pair of sneakers and sent to a wayward camp for kids, is based on Louis Sachar's 1999 Newbery Award-winning kids' book. Weaver is set play a juvenile detention facility warden.
Following the lead of many movie and TV productions, NBC has announced that L.A. Law: Return to Justice will be shot north of the border in Vancouver, the L.A. Times reports. Lured by tax breaks and a low Canadian dollar, the L.A. Law reunion project, which brings together the original series cast (minus Jimmy Smits), is the latest Southern California production to be shot in Canada.
The American Red Cross has inducted Jane Seymour, who played a quasi-physician on the long-running series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, into their new Celebrity Cabinet. According to Britain's The Post, Seymour will focus her attention on childhood illnesses, especially measles, which is killing millions of children in Africa.
Proving that she's still "worth it," former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell has signed a $1 million deal to feature in a new international poster and TV campaign for cosmetics giant L'Oreal, reports Sky News. Halliwell joins the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Andie MacDowell, Claudia Schiffer and more recently, Destiny's Child singer Beyonce Knowles.
Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer denied Tuesday that an interview with talk show host Rosie O'Donnell had caused a rift between them, AP reports. In the interview, O'Donnell is expected to talk openly about her homosexuality for the first time. Sawyer landed the interview, which is set to air on ABC's Primetime Thursday on March 14.
Hank Williams, Jr. paid tribute to country icon Waylon Jennings, who died last week, during a sold-out Saturday night Grand Ole Opry performance at the Ryman Auditorium. It was his first appearance on the esteemed radio show in twenty years. In what may be the longest grudge in history, Williams has avoided the Opry not only because of the chilly reception he received the last time he appeared, but because the show fired his father, Hank Williams, Sr., in the 1950s.
Dawson's Creek veterans James Van Der Beek and Kerr Smith are both engaged-and no-not to each other. Van Der Beek, who plays Dawson Leary, proposed to actress Heather McComb, his girlfriend of two years, while Smith asked actress Ali Hillis to marry him. However, according to Ananova, neither of the cuties have immediate plans to wed.
Record labels have tapped into video games--and the latest recruit in this cross-promo trend is none other than pop princess Britney Spears. According to Rolling Stones magazine, interactive entertainment software developer THQ is releasing Britney's Dance Beat, a game where players get to select from a choice of dancers auditioning to be backup dancers on her tour. Get into the groove and you'll score points to move on to more complex tunes.
Oasis will release "The Hindu Times," their first new single in nearly two years on April 15, the band said in a statement posted on their Web site. The group first performed the track at a series of concerts late last year celebrating their 10th anniversary. It's the first song from the band's as yet untitled fifth studio album which scheduled for release in July.
Madonna has been nominated for the Les Paul Horizon Award at the Orville H Gibson Guitar Awards for her guitar playing. The singer is up against John Mayer, Pete Yorn, Michelle Branch and Chris Thomas King. For those of you who didn't know, Madonna actually played the guitar on her Drowned World Tour.
In a blow to small broadcast outfits that fear being squeezed out of the marketplace, the federal appeals court Tuesday threw out the FCC's regulation that prevents broadcast and cable operators from owning each other. The elimination of the TV cap enables companies like AOL Time Warner to acquire a major network like NBC.