Wednesday, 18 August 2010


The word is that Salt was a script initially written with Tom Cruise in mind for the leading part. Instead, and not unpleasantly, we get Angelina Jolie as quadruple-crosssing, gun-toting, high-kicking CIA agent Evelyne Salt. Yet it is easy to see comparisons premise-wise with Cruise's more futuristic action thriller Minority Report.

Where Minority Report had a sci-fi theme, Salt is more of a spy thriller. Yet it does not lack for action. For over 100 bone-rattling minutes Jolie barges, blasts and blags her way through a multitude of certain death situations, while still managing to look stunning and totally in control for the vast majority of the time. The film's many plot twists don't seem to trouble her either. She reacts to seismic changes in her circumstances in the way that one might react to the cancellation of a favourite television programme.

We first see her in North Korea being tortured for being a spy. This sets the tone for the introduction of the slightly barm-pot yet nostalgic renewal of Hollywood hostilities with Communism. A film hasn't been this anti-Commie since Ivan Drago mused that 'if he dies, he dies' in Rocky IV. Yet the North Koreans disappear as quickly as they appear and it is that old foe the Russians who are absolutely out to get America and it's allies. To prove this they have planted Salt into the CIA. Yet they're nothing if not subtle, so her first mission is to assassinate the RUSSIAN president on his visit to New York.

We get all this news from a former Russian agent wanting to defect. Salt acts like it's news to her. She has a cover to protect, a regular home life with a husband and everything. She's just trying to get home for their anniversary dinner. But the evidence mounts and she decides that she's going to have to kill a few people after all.

That's about as much plot as you can stomach but trust me when I tell you there is a very different endgame. Along the way there are more twists and turns than a twisty-turny thing could ever hope to contain and we get the full range of Jolie's action heroine talents. She runs a lot, jumps a lot, fights a lot and even crosses genders to keep the authorities if not the audience guessing. She's like a female Jack Bauer. You're sure that what she is doing is good but you are not so sure that her methods are not equally if not more damaging.

I'm not suggesting that Salt is a likely story. Some of it's stunts and scenarios are so absurd they make James Bond movies look like documentaries. The climactic scenes are especially guilty here, as they ignore the golden rule about never leaving a witness alive. Yet none of this should detract from the enjoyment on offer. Far better to be absurd, know it and just enjoy it than to try and make some intellectual or salient point as so many films try and fail to do these days.

Salt is very definitely open for a sequel which, if it happens, has a lot to live up to action-wise. And a nagging problem about what to do with that witness.......

Friday, 13 August 2010

Knight And Day

In case you missed the transition, Tom Cruise is now a comedian. Following on from his admittedly hilarious cameo in Tropic Thunder, the slightly doo-lally Scientologist with the winning smile brings you this mostly pointless quip-fest.

Cruise plays Ray Miller who, it turns out, is a secret agent. After deliberately bumping into Cameron Diaz at an airport, the pair find themselves on board the plane exchanging pleasantries and trying to emit chemistry. All of which is quite incidental, because the real reason that Ray has engineered the meeting is because..........well actually I don't know........

Ray has something that lots of bad people want to take from him, but the film never satisfactorily explains why he has to take Diaz's June Havens along for the ride. Maybe it is just because the director thinks that she'll look good in a bikini later in the film. Who knows? June is on her way back home for her sister April's wedding. I have no idea what happened to May, but she's better off out of it if what follows is any yardstick.

The bad people are on the plane. So while June is off powdering her nose in the implausibly small toilet, Ray is left to ruthlessly murder a succession of henchmen, two of whom happen to be piloting the plane. What's an action comedy hero to do but get up front and land the plane himself? Ray does so with the minimum of fuss, finding time to apologise to June for every slight bump along the way. Ray's manners are the film's most prominent running joke. He never forgets to apologise or pay compliments about June's dress. Not even if there are 50 machine-gun wielding lunatics on his tail. Which is almost always the case.

From here on in it is a battle to protect the thing that the bad guys want which means tracking down it's inventor, the brilliantly named Simon Feck (Drink! Girls! Arse-biscuits!) Simon's a young genius, but has all the character of a Katie Price novel. All of which makes him pretty difficult to protect from the hail of bullets at times, but that doesn't stop Cruise wise-cracking his way through the madness all the same.

The stunts in this film are monstrously silly, and it never makes it's mind up about whether it is a rom-com or an action film. There is some acting among the special effects but nothing that will be remembered. If Cruise's movement towards comedy has anything to do with his 47 years it is not evident here. He remains determined to prove that he can do action and humour in the same 100-odd minutes. He can, but it doesn't mean it works all the time.

Knight And Day is fun if you like this sort of thing and are prepared to leave your belief at the door. There are moments of genuine humour and a passable love story. Cruise and Diaz are a believable couple, but the comic banter they spend so much time delivering is effortlessly overshadowed by Ray's parents in one short scene.