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Cruise Rubs 'Salt' in MGM Wound

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Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (AP)

Cruise Rubs 'Salt' in MGM Wound | Will Smith: Speaking, Not Listening | Sightings

Cruise Rubs 'Salt' in MGM Wound

Stranger than, well, fiction: Tom Cruise’s next acting assignment is not for United Artists/MGM, where the actor has set up shop and already is losing money.

According to Variety, Cruise is going to star in a Columbia Pictures film called "Edwin A. Salt," directed by Peter Berg.

At the most tangential, you could say Cruise is working for an MGM relative. Sony, which owns Columbia, has a small stake in MGM. It’s unlikely the project would be cross-collateralized into UA.

But Cruise’s deal with United Artists so far has produced a dog, "Lions for Lambs." And he’s following that with the ever-popular "Valkyrie," in which he will try to assassinate Hitler (see below) with one eye, one arm and a strong Midwestern accent.

The price tag on "Valkyrie," I’m told, is $90 million and rising. With "Lambs" a box office shish-kebab and "Valkyrie" expensive and controversial, one might think Cruise’s next project would be the "Jerry Maguire"-like romantic comedy he so desperately needs — and for UA.

Is it a coincidence that "Salt" is to be directed by Berg, who just directed Cruise’s new best pal, Will Smith, (see below) in "Hancock"? Oh, you know, there are no coincidences. Berg also just appeared as an actor in "Lions for Lambs." He was the general. Another coincidence!

Berg also directed a 2003 action flick for Columbia called "The Rundown," starring The Rock as a character named Beck. That’s a coincidence within a coincidence, you see, since the singer Beck is a celebrity Scientologist, and "the rundown" is the name of the church’s basic course. Amazing!

Will Smith: Speaking, Not Listening

To paraphrase Will Smith’s most famous rap song: He just doesn’t understand.

The star of "I Am Legend" is suffering from self-inflicted hubris, and if he doesn’t shut up soon, he’s going to have heavy consequences.

Smith always has been a well-spoken, amiable sort, humble and modest in the right ways as he raked in millions and millions for starring in big budget entertainment.

But like so many stars of past generations, lately Smith has gotten carried away with himself. After all, a movie with the title "I Am Legend" isn't going to make him a shrinking violet. Neither is a 10-day box office run of $150 million.

Yet, in the last month, Smith is credited with at least two preposterous statements. One was equating the Christian Bible with Scientology, a religion concocted by a science fiction writer who believed people were "occupied" by aliens.

Second, he essentially told a Scottish newspaper that Adolf Hitler was a good guy gone bad.

Did be mean these things? Or was Smith so carried away with himself during an interview that he just rambled? Rambling in front of a journalist is the quickest way to get yourself into trouble.

But we have Smith also recently deciding he would build a school because all the schools he’s seen — public and private — are simply no good. A Will Smith school obviously would be a lot better. You know, he’s done a lot of research on this subject.

Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, told Essence magazine in 2005: "The school system in this country — public and private — is designed for the industrial age," she said. "We're in a technological age. We don't want our kids to memorize. We want them to learn."

We live in an era when everyone knows better than the experts. A dozen years ago, I remember writing a piece about all the private schools that had popped up in the tony Hamptons. I asked the superintendent of the East Hampton school district if they were necessary. Was the district so hobbled that it required this much supplementation?

Actually, it wasn’t. The district already was spending an above-average amount on its students. But some very wealthy people wanted to make sure their kids were taught the way they wanted, and they were willing to pay for it.

Now Smith has become very, very wealthy and he figures he can get whatever he’s willing to pay for. And he can say whatever sounds right to him, at that moment.

Forget the Hitler stuff. Do you know what he told Readers’ Digest in 2006?

"Traditional education is based on facts and figures and passing tests — not on a comprehension of the material and its application to your life. Jada and I home-school our children, because the date of the Boston Tea Party does not matter."

(For the record, the date — Dec. 16, 1773 — is really, really important. It was the beginning of the American Revolution.)

Smith — who skipped college — asked the interviewer: "Plato's 'Republic' — kids need to know that. Why is that not taught in first grade?"

(The answer is probably that children learn to read in the first grade. Plato’s "The Republic" is introduced to students in the ninth and 10th grades.)

I am not kidding. This is called hubris. Smith should call Kevin Costner. In 1991, he was at the top of his game. The he started saying and doing stuff that became his unraveling. He bought sacred Indian land in South Dakota after making "Dances with Wolves" to build a casino.

He compromised his family. He fired his good friend. A couple of times. And so on. His clean-cut image went out the window. So did his career. Costner never has recovered.

There are other examples. MC Hammer. The Osbournes. I remember when Helen Hunt wouldn’t talk to the press at a "Godzilla" premiere, and stationed security to protect her. (Helen who?) Celebrity can be intoxicating.

In a worst-case scenario, fame can make you feel like you can do anything. The trick is to avoid it, remember who you are. Be like Alan Arkin, who was busy getting himself and his wife a plate of food at the Governors Ball buffet this year right after he’d won the Oscar, or Kanye West, who I spotted pulling luggage off an airport carousel.

But basically, Smith just doesn’t understand. I will trust that he doesn’t admire Hitler. He probably knows that Scientology and the Bible have nothing to do with each other. But it’s time for him to stop and listen to the sound of his own voice before it’s too late. A reality check is better than an oil change.

And for the record. Hitler was not a good person gone bad. He was a bad guy from the beginning. In case you were wondering. He had no redeeming features. Smith said of Hitler’s behavior — the murder of 6 million Jews, for example — is "stuff that needed reprogramming."

Reprogramming? Another word for coincidence.

Sightings

Who got a word in edgewise Wednesday night when Charlie Rose dined with James Lipton at Elaine’s? Luckily there were women at the table. But what a PBS fest! ... Meanwhile, revered actress Gena Rowlands stopped in with longtime beau, now new husband, Robert Forrest. Looking sensational at 77, Gena was married to legendary director John Cassavetes until his death in 1989 … Charles Simonyi, who created all those Microsoft apps we depend on, went into space earlier this year with cosmonauts ... He’s back on Earth now, however, vacationing in St. Bart’s along with all the mucky mucks. No word on whether Martha Stewart is with him …Curious about Paris Hilton’s family fundings? Thursday’s announcement coincides with a story that appeared here last June. Click here to learn more about Paris’ granddad, William Barron Hilton.