Just like its mineral namesake, the Angelina Jolie actioner ‘Salt’ isn’t good for you

As the film’s tagline goes, “Who is Salt?” Who cares?

Assuming you still want to know the answer, “Salt” is a nicely shot action film of sheer just-below-averageness, doomed by a numb, plot-hole-aplenty script that asked me to suspend my disbelief more than I was willing.

Salt is also the name of the CIA agent Angelia Jolie (“Wanted”) plays in it, as in Evelyn Salt. Twenty-five minutes before she needs to leave work to celebrate her anniversary with her husband (August Diehl, “Inglourious Basterds”), she’s asked to interrogate a Russian defector named Orlov (Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski).

Orlov pretty much sours Salt’s night when he not only tells her that a Russian spy will assassinate the Russian president (Boris, lazily) at the impending funeral of the vice president of the United States, but that the name of said Russian spy is — wait for it — Evelyn Salt. Dun-dun-DUN!

Theatrics aside, that’s actually a terrific premise, and director Phillip Noyce plays it out as such for a while, although he falters in the first action set piece; while Salt tries to escape the CIA headquarters from her suspicious peers — among them, Winter (Liev Schreiber, “Repo Men”) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor, “2012”) — there’s zero sense of spatial relationships, so as she runs and even exercises her inner MacGyver, audiences have no concrete idea as to the characters’ proximity to one another.

Then again, everything about “Salt” is kind of a cheat, because it fails to establish its own world credibly. The events in the film arguably could happen in real life; those in “Inception” could not, yet that movie makes you believe. Even the bending-bullets BS of “Wanted” seem easier to swallow than a pinch of “Salt.” There’s a disguise in the third act that comes out of the “Mission: Impossible” playbook, but is so laughably sore-thumb, “Mission: Improbable” is more like it.

Jolie does fine in the role, physically, handling the rough-and-tumble stunt stuff with ease, but I never stopped thinking she was American Superstar Angelina Jolie. How could I, with Noyce constantly cutting back to close-ups of those perfect, bee-stung lips?

Noyce usually excels at such high-stakes games of international intrigue (see “Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger” and — yeah, sue me — “The Saint”), but the screenplay by Kurt Wimmer is too dumbed-down and riddled with lapses of logic ” a continuing problem for him (see “Ultraviolet,” “The Recruit” and “Equilibrium”).

Part of the reason it feels so empty is that it’s all a setup for further adventures, like a television pilot. Hopes for this being Jolie’s own “Bourne Identity”-style franchise are premature, but that didn’t stop my friend and me from dreaming up potential sequel titles and taglines, post-screening: “Salt 2: Saltier,” “Salt II: Excessive Sodium,” “Salt: She puts the DOA in NaCl.” —Rod Lott

Rod Lott

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