Movie Review: Salt
The Charlotte Observer
Angelina Jolie is definitely worth her salt as an action hero, but “Salt” is never worth its Angelina Jolie.
This absurd, overplotted thriller bangs and smashes around for 90 incoherent minutes before getting to its surprise-that-isn’t-a-surprise. By then, credibility has been slain as ruthlessly as the bystanders who litter the paths of Salt and her foes.
Kurt Wimmer, who also wrote the suspense-free “Street Kings” and “Law Abiding Citizen,” goes wrong from the second scene. A defecting Russian agent (Daniel Olbrychski) informs U.S. security that the Soviet Union has planted spies in America over the last half-century – Lee Harvey Oswald was one of them – to wreak havoc.
The moles’ biggest coup will be to precipitate a nuclear war between Russia and our country. The defector identifies respected CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Jolie), an expert on Russian affairs, as one of them, and tells the CIA she has been assigned to assassinate the visiting president of Russia that week to get the deadly ball rolling.
Never mind that such a war would leave both Russia and America crippled and broken. Never mind that any such idiotic plan would have been called off 20 years ago at the latest, when the Soviet Union dissolved.
Never mind that identifying Salt as a traitor – if she is one – would make any assassination attempt a hundred times more difficult, because the good guys would know who she is. (The rationale for outing her, given too late in the movie to matter, makes no sense.) Now she’s on the run, chased by her boss (Liev Schreiber) and a no-nonsense federal agent (Chiwetel Ejiofor, often hired in small roles to give class to movies that have none).
Australian director Philip Noyce, who adapted a couple of Tom Clancy thrillers in the ’90s, remembers how to make sense of a car chase, a motorcycle chase, even a chase on foot. He can stage old-fashioned combat competently, and he has a slight sense of humor: He pays tribute to “From Russia With Love” with a knife-in-the-shoe fight in a confined space, though this film is only a shrunken shadow of the great Bond movies. Noyce simply makes chicken Kiev from the chicken droppings Wimmer supplies, and the climax is laugh-out-loud silly.
Salt resembles Bond, actually. She can make bazookas out of office furniture, outfight opponents who are equally skilled and twice her weight, or plummet from an overpass onto a speeding truck (and then another truck and then another truck) without acquiring a broken bone, a bruise or even a bead of sweat. There’s no actress more believable in unbelievable stunts than Jolie, and the Oscar-winner brings flair to this endeavor. She even explores the script’s few shallow emotional moments with her usual skill.
Now that I think about it, though, the movie goes wrong from the first scene, when North Koreans torture Salt – in her lingerie, par for the course in these movies – because they think she’s a spy. Either she must be incompetent, or someone must have ratted on her. Yet the rest of the movie proves she’s astonishingly good at her job, and the one person who might have informed had no reason to do so. But why am I losing brain cells trying to figure this out? The movie killed too many thousands of them on the first go-round.