Friday, July 30, 2010


 "Every Man His 007 (And Every Woman, Too) Part 2"

"Salt" is the film that Tom Cruise passed on in order to make "Knight and Day," this Summer's earlier variation on the Bond Formula, allowing Cruise to fulfill a personal goal of playing "a James Bond type," while also creating a lighter version of both the character and his own screen persona.  When Cruise went into the "Knight," it was offered, as presumably to many others, to Angelina Jolie, who snatched it up and the script altered to accommodate the sex-change.  Jolie had earlier said "Thanks, but 'Dr. No' thanks" to the "Bond-girl" roles subordinate to her "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" co-star, Daniel Craig, in his first two official 007 outings, joking to Sony Studios Exec Amy Pascal that she would prefer to play "Jane Bond."  Both mega-stars got their wish in the switch, playing spies in their own personal quests to "Bond" in the world of espionage, and maybe...just maybe...should the public decide to accept them...start their own franchises.*

So...mission accomplished?

Ehhhhhh...not so much.

First, let me just say that my respect for Tom Cruise made another couch-leap after seeing "Salt" (Good work, Mr. Mapother, even if by omission).  Ms. Jolie surely should have passed on this half-baked-at-too-high-a-temperature pot-scalder that appears to be inept at every level except for attracting talent.  You look at who worked on this thing in front and behind the camera and you scratch your head that the work of all these really good people could produce such hack-work.  This is a terrible movie made by professionals.

Start with the script: Man walks into CIA headquarters.**  Says he's a Soviet spy with news of an impending assassination.  Oooh.  CIA operative Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) sends in his best interrogator Evelyn Salt (Jolie).  Let us forget that we have been told that she spent quite some time in a North Korean prison camp accused of being a spy,*** tortured, and then released in a prisoner-exchange program.  Let us forget about Post-Traumatic Stress, Stockholm Syndrome, survivor's guilt, or any other psychological result in THE REAL WORLD that might compromise her work—put it aside.  This Soviet agent (suspicious) walks into CIA headquarters (doubtful) talks about an assassination coming up (high suspicion, bordering on incredulity that the CIA might not have got some whiff of it on the cyber-wind) on Russia's own Premier (...what the what?!!  Why would Soviet agents want to kill their own...okay, okay, never mind). Then, comes the "hook:" the name of the Soviet-cell agent who will carry out the Evelyn Salt.  Caught red-handed.

Why would said Soviet spy do THAT?  Why would he "blow" an already suspiciously compromised assassination by revealing the identity of the culprit?  Mis-information?  No such complexity, as it turns out.  Events reveal a concrete reality to all he says...and that he is the mastermind behind all the eventual mayhem.  Some mastermind.  Truth to tell, its just absurd script-writing that goes from Dumb Idea A to Dumb Idea Z without any alphabetizing justification for those actions.

Remember "The Menagerie?"  It's that two-part episode in the first season of the original "Star Trek" where Spock helps his old commander, Captain Pike, get back to an "illusion" planet to end out his days free of the physical restraints that bind him.  They took the original "Star Trek" pilot, put it in the past, and built a present day conspiracy story and mock-trial to present the original pilot as evidence...a neat solution to getting some traction out of recycled material already in "the can."  Neat.  But absurd.  It is ultimately revealed that it is all a distraction (along with "phantom commodore" that everybody's been talking to) to tell the story to Captain Kirk (and the audience).  In retrospect, it makes absolutely no sense that all this deep-space chicanery has any purpose other than to waste time and get as much use out of the old material as possible.  It is trumped up drama for the sake of trumped up drama.  This is what "Salt" does for its entire length: set up an absurd situation that makes no sense to get to "the action."  It is the product of a writer-director named Kurt Wimmer, who does a fine business selling scripts to Hollywood and getting them green-lit with top talent.  His scripts of the past include the recent "Law Abiding Citizen," "The Recruit," and "Ultraviolet" and "Equilibrium," the latter two he also directed.  "Equilibrium" has a "cult" following, and I know a few people who genuinely admire it.  I'm not one of them.  It's a collection of "dystopian society" film cliches from much better movies (ie. "THX-1138" and "Farenheit 451"), with some distinctive action sequences that look good and might work as distorted fun-house reflections of reality (as might the movie), but has no basis in anything approaching human beings and their motivations.  It's a moron's "Matrix" (and I lump the eye-candy empty calories of "The Matrix" in the same Happy Meal), all razzle-dazzle sound and fury, signifying, at best, fantasy environment-as-metaphor.  "Awesome!," but absurd.

That's Wimmer's problem.  There are no excuses for the rest of the film-makers, other than making a quick buck and being over-payed for the work produced.  Phillip Noyce, the director, has made some great movies ("Dead Calm," "Rabbit-Proof Fence," the Harrison Ford Tom Clancy adaptations), but his work for producer Robert Evans, "Sliver" and "The Saint," were, to be kind, so-so.  He is only as good as the material he is given.  Simon Crane, who coordinated the stunt-work and directed the second unit, has done some exceptional work on the latter day Bonds, but here, his work is piece-meal, more intent on obfuscating the absence of the star in the action than actually making a coherent action sequence.  And ace editor Stuart Baird, who cut together the first "Superman" (amazing work, that) and "Casino Royale" can only try and make the joins look less seamless.  Such good work has come from these gentlemen in the past that one wonders just what kind of chaos they were working in to provide such below-par work.****

And the cast is cast adrift.  Jolie's character is such a cypher, her motives unclear, without a hint a of Manchurian Candidacy, that she relies on her "inscrutable" look (eyes narrowed, mouth slightly amused) for far too much of the movie's running time.  One wonders what Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andre Braugher (who is criminally wasted here) saw in the project that they might have been able to bring to it.  And Schreiber, who plays Salt's only comrade at the C.I.A., tries to gamely make his operative seem somewhat competent.*****

"Salt" is a festering wound of a movie and the only "smarts" it has is the pain it induces watching it. 

After "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," "Salt," and the subject of this Saturday's  "Take Out the Trash" post (which, incredibly, beat out today's movie for essential hackery), it is very apparent that we are in the "Dog"-Days of Summer.  Approach any and all Friday premieres with caution.

"Salt" is a Waste of Time.  For your health, avoid "Salt."

* The results are in for "Knight and Day," and although I thought it was quite good, it bombed disastrously at the box-office, owing to poor reviews (Hey, don't blame me!) that centered—mostly—around its star.  There's a knee-jerk reaction (emphasis: "jerk") on the part of some critics; I was summarily dissed on another site for which I write for lauding the movie. primarily because the writer wanted to take a few precious minutes...or hammer on Cruise.  It was evident he hadn't (nor would he) take in the flick, so his criticisms were so much hot air floating above the Earth until it ran out of oxygen.  I didn't reply to it, because—really—why bother?  As far as a "Salt" franchise, even though the movie ends with her as a fugitive running through a skimpy forest while avoiding detection from circling helicopters with no heat-sensors evidently (!!), the weekend's box-office portends a quiet shuffling of it under the Sony Pictures rug...until Oscar season when there will be ads promoting it for awards.  Hope is a thing without feathers.

** That should be a joke-starter, but everything in "Salt" is played with deadly earnest.  Hmmm.  If only Jim Varney were still alive—"Deadly Ernest" would make a hell of an absurdist action film.

*** Sometimes you get it right, I guess, even if you're North Korea...How's that missile program going, guys?  Maybe you should switch to oceanography—that's what you're good at hitting...

**** Do I walk into these things with prejudice?  No.  All I knew was Jolie, Schreiber, Ejiofor and that Cruise passed on it.  I didn't know Noyce directed this until the End Credits (and, frankly, my jaw dropped when I saw his name, as he can be great), that Baird edited, or Crane supervised the stunts.  None of this I knew until the end, as I sat in stupefied surprise...these guys, who I admire?  Kurt Wimmer's name I didn't recognize...but looking at his credits I saw the through-line.  His movies are dumb high-concept polyglots that fall apart if you ask one question.  But, somehow he keeps working and attracting good talent.  But, then, so does Satan...

***** While in a high-security setting, poised to foil the assassination, his character actually says "If she pulls something here, it'll have to be pretty amazing..." (which, of course, it is).  This, after seeing Jolie's Salt play "Frogger" on the tops of 18-wheelers as they rumble through clover-leaves of a highway.  Gee, d'ya think?


Simon said...

Oh, shit, this movie is so low on my radar...I like how they're actually trying to ignore the fact that she's a ladything and, therefore, must wear heels or something. But still.

Yojimbo_5 said...

The spate of non-furn films I've seen lately are sending me back to the art-houses for awhile...what's coming out mid-Summer looks uninspired and uninspiring...and frankly, makes me not want to write about movies.

And this is dangerous.

Yeah, Si', this is an "I'll hate myself in the morning" picture. Pass the "Salt." (I've got a MILLION of 'em!)

Mike Lippert said...

Come on Yojimbo, this is not worse than the A-Team. As far as could-be-a-Russia-spy movies go, this one is well made and entertaining.

Yojimbo_5 said...

For your opinion, Mike, you should be condemned to having to watch both those movies again.

"The A-Team" was at least entertaining, whereas "Salt" didn't make me crack a smile once (but I DID roll my eyes quite often). You knew with "A-T" you were watching a spoof, but "Salt" takes itself SO grimly that you wonder if a laugh-track might help.

No. You're way off the beam on this one. And knee-jerk "A-Team" hate can't blind you to Noyce's poor choices here and Simon Crane's ham-fisted action staging and shooting...What HAPPENED to these guys.

AND ANOTHER THING!! This "Salt" thing is so g-d SEXIST, it made me squirm in my seat. Would you get away with this "the love of good spider expert" will overcome her training, if the agent was a MAN?

Hardly! C'mon, Mike! You're wrong on all counts here.