Every year, the summer season invariably brings action movie apologists who love to label anything with a quickened pulse and a sexy lead as “fun” and anyone who disagrees as a curmudgeon incapable of being entertained by explosions. Prepare your outrage and hyperbolic praises, action junkies.
Phillip Noyce’s Salt is an implausible amalgam of action set pieces with no interest in practicality, a chase thriller that adopts the “go big” attitude of the Hollywood blockbuster and none of the logic, humor or suspense of quality storytelling.
Angelina Jolie is a Jason Bourne knock-off who uses her feminine wiles and wiry frame to thwart enemies as brainless as this movie, but she looks good while executing those heart-pounding sequences, so nevermind that pesky plot.
The opening reveals a torture chamber and Evelyn Salt (Jolie) in her bra and panties, bloodied and beaten, a blunt, immediate reminder of the female empowerment angle this particular actioner has adopted. Unable to coerce any information, her North Korean captors arrange a rare trade for one of their own, releasing her back into American arms.
As a free woman, Salt admits to her husband she’s, of course, a CIA agent working in a covert facility that resembles an ordinary office building (with air-tight security). Until one fateful day, when water cooler banter is interrupted by a walk-in Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) with a message for the men (and woman) in charge.
Seated in front of Salt, Orlov tells of a vast network of Russian sleeper assassins, like Lee Harvey Oswald, programmed from birth to infiltrate America and disrupt the empire. This is the film’s flimsy attempt to renew Cold War tensions, but, without a mention of communism or a hint of relevance, the Russians are the typical arbitrary antagonists with thick accents and murky motives. Meanwhile, Orlov concludes his rambling story by revealing the name of the most dangerous Russian super spy: Evelyn Salt.
The namedrop sends Salt running with Ted Winter (a boring Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in tow, which sums up the remainder of the movie. Salt dodges gunfire, survives impossible stunts, and leaps past plot holes the size of Russia, relying on pure coincidence and conveniently inept guards to escape capture and continue the chase.
Angelina Jolie in SaltJolie’s signature cheekbones and pillowy pout make it difficult to see past her celebrity persona, through no fault of her own. The A-list actress ordinarily loses herself in her dramatic roles, dressing down to fit a character of layered emotion, but here Jolie’s looks are the appeal and on full display, along with the stern scowl she brought to the similarly “fun” Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
For this reason, as well as the countless illogical twists, Noyce inadvertently keeps his audience at a distance, unable to fully surrender to the fantasy of a stunningly beautiful agent on the lam. Jolie’s drastic disguise to transform herself is to ditch her colored contact lenses, dye her hair, and dress in all black, as if she won’t stand out in a crowd looking like Morticia Addams.
Jolie does her best with a preposterous script by Kurt Wimmer, and Noyce, whose credits include several Jack Ryan adventures, has a feel for fast pacing, but ultimately Salt is too mindless and ridiculous to swallow, even for a summer movie.