July 23, 2010


Say hello to my anorexic friend

Grade: B

Director: Phillip Noyce

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Angelina Jolie isn’t as good as actress as her notoriety portends nor is she as bad as her detractors claim. But, she has always struck a convincing action (anti-)heroine, no small feat in an almost exclusively male-dominated genre.

Such is the case in Salt, in which Jolie plays the titular CIA officer (to wit, a part originally written for Tom Cruise), who goes on the lam after being accused of being a KGB sleeper agent plotting to assassinate the Russian president, et al. The film opens ten years prior, with a scantily-clad Salt being tortured by North Korean captors before being part of a prisoner exchange across the Bridge of No Return. This reprise of the opening sequence in Die Another Day is not the only James Bond homage seasoning Salt: a would-be Russian defector, Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), employs Rosa Klebb’s shoe-dagger in From Russia with Love to effect his escape from custody; even echoes of The Living Daylights surround the circumstances behind the assassination of a high-ranking Russian dignitary.

These Cold War movie references are not the least bit profound, much like casting Liev Schreiber, who played Raymond Shaw in the The Manchurian Candidate remake, in another movie about commie agents nesting States-side awaiting their appointed hour to strike. Instead, they infuse the film with an almost nostalgic air, evoking bygone threats that now seem passé in comparison to the dangers of the new century. Indeed, only the recent roundup of a Russian sleeper cell living in New Jersey gives Salt a modicum of fortuitous topicality.

Untangling the web of plot twists and turns would require quintuple the allotted space for this review. Suffice to say the script requires you to not so much suspend your disbelief as put it in stasis. Don't mistake confusion for complexity in a storyline that vacillates in sync with Salt’s ever-changing hairstyle and coloring. Considering the involvement of screenwriter Kurt Wimmer, whose credits read like a rogues gallery of cinematic crime (Law Abiding Citizen; Street Kings; Ultraviolet; The Recruit; etc.), the fact that Salt isn’t an unwatchable dumpster fire should receive second billing on the theater marquee.

To the contrary, director Phillip Noyce maintains a brisk, breathless pace evocative of his ‘90s Jack Ryan pictures. The terrific non-CGI stunt work is as retro as the film’s premise. Moreover, the genuinely keeps-you-guessing storyline imbues Salt with a moral ambiguity that plays to Jolie’s personal and professional personae. A bit more character development and background would have put more flesh on Salt’s rail-thin motives. But, preserving an air of mystery – and the 93-minute running time – prove a worthy tradeoffs.

Like its namesake condiment, Salt lacks substance but goes perfectly with a movie-going popcorn-muncher. It is taut and pleasantly preposterous, which is as much as you can ask from pulp that only pretends to take itself serious so you don’t have to.

Neil Morris

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