Jolie spy film peppered with familiar stories
still, watching lead dash about is fun
Much is being made of the fact that the action hero of “Salt” is, in fact, an action heroine — Angelina Jolie, whose interest in this screenplay inspired producers to change its main character from male to female just for her.
But whatever the merits of the story and its thrills, this gender reversal isn’t going to look startlingly original to anyone who has seen shoot’em-ups starring Sigourney Weaver, Charlize Theron or — hey, wait — Jolie herself.
Not to mention the most direct comparison, the butt-kicking lady-spy TV show “Alias.” Come to think of it, plenty of other aspects of “Salt” will seem fresher for those who somehow missed that series’ five-year run. Take, for instance, the central premise: that Russians long ago took a group of kids and trained them from toddlerhood to be sleeper agents in America, ready to rise up and execute a plan of great evil.
Who knew actual current events would conspire to rescue this movie from its laughably dated storyline?
In “Salt,” Jolie plays a valu-
Once her cover is blown, American spy Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) must go on the run from her former partner (Liev Schreiber, left) and a by-the-book official (Chiwetel Ejiofor). able American spy accused of being a double agent by a Russian who, to any rational observer, would seem to need to keep her secret under wraps. (This is the first of a couple of instances in which characters play their hands too early, for no apparent reason other than to let Evelyn Salt leap into action.)
Her exposure forces Salt into a brisk, often enjoyable cat-and-mouse game — she’s running from her longtime partner (Liev Schreiber) and a more by-the-books official (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Throughout the game, Jolie tries on a number of male personae: making science-fair weapons like MacGyver, hopping from one speeding truck’s roof to another like Jackie Chan and navigating a vertigo-inducing building ledge like Matt Damon in “The Bourne Identity.”
A Bourne-like franchise is clearly what the moviemakers are after here (the movie ends with a shameless lead-in to a second film), but it must be said that, even as an amnesiac, Jason Bourne is a vastly more interesting character than Evelyn Salt.
And despite Phillip Noyce’s good taste as a filmmaker (taste that goes AWOL at the beginning, with Jolie writhing in her underwear, being tortured by North Koreans in a scene worthy of a Pam Grier women-in-prison flick), “Salt” also lacks the narrative chops that power the Bourne films. It’s tightly packed with flashback-aided expositional dialogue that keeps the pace brisk via lazy storytelling, and the inexplicable events that force Salt to go on the lam are only addressed (halfheartedly) in the closing scenes, long after we’ve stopped taking the movie seriously.
Still, this is far from the dumbest thing on screens this summer, and there might be worse fates than returning to watch Jolie put on new disguises (she can never quite camouflage those lips, can she?) as she tries to clear her name and save the world.
But if there’s a next time, here’s hoping the filmmakers will have gotten over the whole “Look! She’s a sensitive woman!” shtick and won’t again force us to watch while Salt pauses, with soldiers hot on her trail, to ask the little girl next door to look after her dog. Rating: PG-3 for violence. Running time:
hour, 38 minutes. Theaters: Alamo Lake Creek, Alamo South, Alamo Village, Barton Creek, Cinemark Cedar Park, Cinemark Galleria, Cinemark Round Rock, Cinemark Southpark Meadows, Gateway, Highland, Starplex, Tinseltown Pflugerville, Westgate.
Subtlety is not a strong suit for ‘Salt,’ but Angelina Jolie’s spy antics manage to entertain.