‘Salt’ well processed, low on spice
Watching Angelina Jolie slice, dice, kick, jump, shoot, run, and blow stuff up, all while camera-ready has its moments. The idea of a 110-pound action star with ropy arms, Claes Oldenburg lips, and a bosom Roger Corman would love made sense only on the pages of a comic book. But Jolie operates in ridiculous defiance of physics. In “Salt,’’ she plays Evelyn Salt, an American spy on the run for, perhaps, being a Russian double agent. At some point, it looks as though she’s been cornered and caught. But, no: She leaps off an overpass onto a moving semi, then onto a tanker, followed by a delivery truck, then a motorbike. She hangs off a speeding vehicle, forces a poor police officer to drive while she Tases him, and goes rolling off a bulleting subway. For 45 minutes as a blonde, for 45 as a steely brunette.
I started to call a doctor friend to find out how many sequences ago a tag should have graced Evelyn’s cold, lifeless toe. But realizing I was missing the point of the Angelina Jolie experience, I put the phone down and considered consulting a personal trainer. I want the Evelyn Salt workout. Otherwise, “Salt’’ is ridiculous. A Russian baddie (Daniel Olbrychski) casually insists, during a CIA interrogation, that the terrorist scheduled to kill the Russian president at the funeral of the recently deceased American vice president is, indeed, Agent Salt.
That I can believe. What I can’t believe is that the North Koreans would have nabbed her in the field, as they have in the comical opening scene , or that she’d marry a homely German entomologist (August Diehl). Liev Schreiber plays a co-worker, and why no one has thought to get these two together until now is mystery. That said, only in the latter scenes of Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay do they really connect in any meaningful way. Otherwise, she’s Harrison Ford, and he and Chiwetel Ejiofor, as an FBI agent also trying to catch her, share the Tommy Lee Jones part. It takes a lot of men not to catch this woman.
So, yes, the movie is part “The Fugitive.’’ It’s also part “Bourne Identity’’ and part dutiful airport thriller. To that end, the director is Phillip Noyce, an Australian who has spent the most lucrative years of his career orchestrating the Hollywood adaptations of such books. “Patriot Games,’’ “Clear and Present Danger,’’ and “The Bone Collector,’’ also with Jolie, were professional, mostly serious entertainments. “Salt’’ is a lesser relative.
Those first two films, along with “Dead Calm,’’ a thriller Noyce made with Nicole Kidman in 1989, exemplified a talent for generating the tension that results in excitement or suspense. Over 20 years later, “Salt’’ appears to have been assembled in the same food processor as most mainstream action films. So much of its fights and chases share a generic sameness both in their sloppy construction and where they’re situated. Take, Ye Olde Highway Chase, which this movie finds so nice it tries it twice.
But Jolie doesn’t seem entirely bored with the routine. She has a laugh or two at her bionic image: Evelyn is a woman who uses a maxi pad as a bandage, and this is a star who’s OK spending her movie’s last quarter looking like Hilary Swank playing Jason Bourne. But at this point, Jolie’s ultraness needs a foil. “Salt’’ concludes with the promise of a sequel. With any luck Queen Latifah will tempt fate and join the proceedings as Pepper.