If you’ve been reading or watching the news, you know about the U.S. government’s recent bust-up of a Soviet spy ring. Most of the media attention was focused on a pretty young party girl who made the Manhattan social scene while funneling top-level secrets back to the Russkies.
“Salt” benefits from the connection to the headlines, but it’s all coincidence. The movie was in the making, and even in the can, long before the real-life spy drama came to light.
Angelina Jolie rips into the title role of a CIA super-agent accused of being a Soviet counterspy. Outed---or set up?---by a Russian defector, Evelyn Salt suddenly finds herself on the run as a long-incubating Russian plot to take down the United States begins to play out.
Her life, her husband, and all-out nuclear war hang in the balance.
Salt makes it difficult to know her true motives, or her mission, as she slam-bangs her way out of seemingly impossible jams and blazes a path of destruction from Washington D.C. to New York. Bodies start to pile up on both sides, and the movie intriguingly scrambles its signals. Is she a hero, or a villain? Is she trying to stop the Soviets, or help them along?
It’s interesting to watch a female in a movie framework that usually oozes testosterone. Tom Cruise was initially signed on for the part, but backed out when he thought the plot was too close to his own “Mission Impossible” franchise. The role was retooled for Jolie.
The plot definitely keeps you guessing, and it’s got the snap, crackle and pop you’d expect from a brisk spy-on-the-run romp. But, unfortunately, “Salt” runs straight into a few too many familiar action clichés, without offering much in the way of invention or innovation.
The plot becomes pretty ridiculous, but action scenes and the stunts are well staged, and it’s refreshing, in this era of computer-generated overkill, to see some old-fashioned, metal-on-metal car crashes. If you can suppress your “Oh, come on!” impulses, you’ll get kick out of seeing Salt navigate around the outside of a high-rise building, hop from the top of one speeding truck to another, and catch a descending elevator by soaring like a flying squirrel down the shaft.
She also makes a bazooka out of a conference-room table leg, uses her pantyhose to disable a security camera, leaps from of a speeding subway train, jumps out of a helicopter, and appears implausibly well versed in practically every deadly art.
When Salt shows up at a White House event in a disguise that makes her look like Wayne Newton impersonating a Soviet officer, no one on the security detail flinches. But you’ll probably giggle.
A supporting cast of capable (male) actors fills in the gaps on both sides of the geopolitical divide, but this is Jolie’s gung-ho show all the way. Without seeming to worry that it doesn’t call for much in the way of serious acting, she plays Salt with just the right tone of cool, sexy, sometimes scary inscrutability that makes her character such a difficult one to peg, and a dangerous one to cross.
If you’re not a fan of action thrillers to begin with, you should probably spend your ticket dollars elsewhere. But if you’re curious just how this little firecracker cocktail of adrenaline, estrogen and espionage tastes, “Salt” may be just the seasoning to go with your summer popcorn.
And if they ever do make a movie about that New York spy ring, forget Tom. Call Angelina first.