Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Yes, indeed, "who is Salt?"  With a question like that, you might expect Salt to be a movie of mistaken identities, or perhaps something involving multiple personalities or amnesia (a la Bourne).  Those expectations will not be met by this film.

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.
A few years back, before they were married, Evelyn was captured in North Korea and accused of espionage.  Somehow, her hubby-to-be persuaded the powers that be to release her, and they got married in one of the least mutually attractive film marriages of all time.  Still bloodied and bruised from her interrogation, Evelyn tells her man that she is really a CIA agent, and that he will never be safe as her husband.  Fast-forward a few years, and the completely healed Evelyn Salt is back to work with the CIA, along with her superior officer, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber).  The pair are called in to check out the validity of a supposed Russian spy that is looking to defect and, I assume, wants to live in America to drink Coca-Cola and wear blue jeans.  This defector, Vasilly Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), tells Salt, Winter, and a room full of agents that are monitoring for heart rate and fact-checking details, about Day X.  This is a long-term plan by a former Soviet spy master where he planted child assassins into America, with the intent of using them (after they grew up) as sleeper agents to one day destroy the United States.  In fact, a sleeper agent is supposed to assassinate the Russian president tomorrow.  That agent's name is...Evelyn Salt.  Wha...?!?

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.
On the other hand, if you are in the mood for an absolutely ridiculous action movie, this might be right up your alley.

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.
I actively disliked the normally likable Chiwetel Ejiofor, if only because his character bobbed between Batman-level anticipation of Salt's moves and idiotic mistakes, like leaving her alone in an unlocked room.  The rest of the cast was not particularly noteworthy, but I would like to one bit part.  Andre Braugher, one of the great speaking voices in modern movies, had about 15-20 minutes of screen time and only two lines; has nobody seen how good he was in Homicide: Life on the Streets?  Somebody give the man a decent role!

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.
Noyce does a very good job with the action scenes, which make up a large part of the movie.  I don't know if I completely buy a non-super-powered Jolie beating up hallways full of armed government agents, but Noyce made it look plausible, at least.  The direction falters when any emotion is supposed to be shown.  Every emotion is muted; I would be shocked if I was working with someone who was accused of being a sleeper agent, but everyone in this movie kind of takes it with a grain of, um, sand.  I understand that some scenes are meant to be misleading (this is a spy movie, dumb or not), but there is no emotional payoff to any of this.  It doesn't have to be huge (look at the Bourne series, for instance), but this movie needed more than the script supplies.

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."
Of course, that's more of a "is it a good movie?" sort of rating.  If I'm in the mood to laugh at the stupid plot and just bask in the gratuitous chases, I give this a Lefty Gold rating of

1 comment:

  1. This review is itself Lefty Gold in need of some serious editing. However, you do have some truly unique material here.