Jolie spy film pep­pered with fa­mil­iar sto­ries

still, watch­ing lead dash about is fun

Austin American-Statesman - - MOVIES & LIFE - By John De­Fore

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.

An­drew schwartz

Sub­tlety is not a strong suit for ‘Salt,’ but An­gelina Jolie’s spy an­tics man­age to en­ter­tain.

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