Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is happily married to a decent-looking (and I'm being generous to August Diehl here) spider-scientist.
|No, I meant a scientist that studies spiders, not the other way around.|
After such a heinous accusation, the obvious next step is to quarantine Salt, to at least make sure she isn't a Russian sleeper assassin, right? That's what agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) tries to do. However, he makes the mistake of letting her call her bug-loving hubby first --- and he's not answering the phone! Oh no! The next thing you know, Salt is beating the living hell out of her fellow CIA agents and pulling some serious Mission: Impossible stunts to escape and learn her husband's fate. But...if she's just interested in finding her husband safe and sound, why is she preparing to assassinate the Russian president at the same time? Just who is this Salt, anyway?
If you are looking for a highly intelligent spy caper, or at least something that could have been adapted from a book, Salt is not the movie for you.
|NOT the inspiration for the movie, but an excellent read.|
What keeps this film from being a serious spy movie? The acting, for starters. Angelina Jolie is fine as the title character, but her role is meant to leave the audience guessing, so she plays it pretty stone-faced. She performs her stunts very well, though, which balances that out a bit. The only part of her performance that I didn't care for was her running scenes; I've seen people run fast, but there is no way Angelina Jolie was running fast enough to break a nine-minute-mile, much less outrun half a dozen athletic government agents that are not wearing a sexy skirt. Liev Schreiber was similarly unemotional, but adequate in his part. I'm not sure if I am just indifferent to the man, or if I still hold a grudge for his part in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
|Yeah, that's how I felt when I watched that movie, too.|
Phillip Noyce is no stranger to directing silly action movies. After all, he gave us The Saint and my all-time favorite blind samurai movie, Blind Fury.
|Don't judge a book by its cover, but it's probably okay to judge movies by their posters.|
I keep mentioning that this is a silly or dumb action movie, but I haven't really gone into detail so far. I just wanted to get the boring critiques out of the way first. The moment when I realized that this was not going to be a realistic or gritty movie was when Angelina Jolie's character (who looks very much like her) marries August Diehl (who looks very much like Peter Doherty). That alone set off warning lights in my brain. The next bit of silliness involves the defecting Russian who escapes CIA headquarters because he was hiding a retractable knife in his boot. How did that get past the already-established-in-the-film high security protocols? Whatever. The important thing is that the audience understands why Salt is running from the CIA. At the 30 minute mark, the answer is...because she doesn't want to be caught. At the 45 minute mark, that reason hasn't changed. In fact, it isn't until the climax (or, if you're clever, the hour mark) that you know for sure why she has done anything that she has done in the movie. And it's not like there is any suspense surrounding her motivations; it's just part of the story that the plot has conveniently left out. There are a few other laughable moments --- Jolie disguised as a busty Ralph Maccio (my wife's description) and a military computer that uploads with the speed of dial-up --- but it was the complete lack of suspense surrounding Salt's inexplicable actions that really bothered me.
This is a very solid action flick, though. Jolie looks good and tough in all of her stunts (except her distance running), and some of her stunts are pretty damn cool. I liked that, for a little while anyway, the government agents (who you just know are outmatched) actually keep up with Salt for a while; her first getaway is a car chase where the CIA are right behind her, despite a series of stunts that would have been the climax in most other chase scenes. Jolie was convincing in the rest of the fight scenes, too, beating up and exploding a few dozens godless Russians here and there. Some of the action scenes were surprisingly inventive, too. It's too bad we never actually see any sort of planning stages for these attacks, because I think that would have added an extra layer of awesome to a story that needed a little more of that key ingredient.
There is something to be said for the film's pace, though. The story is definitely the weak point, but it is smart enough to have chase scene after chase scene until the movie is over. I will give Jolie and the other actors credit for never winking at the camera, either. Yes, this is a ludicrous action movie. But it is an Action movie, with a capital "A."
Lefty Gold rating of