Friday, August 6, 2010

Phillip Noyce's SALT

Salt's day has come and gone. It put up a good fight against Inception, but then got buried by Dinner for Schmucks. Who is Salt? She's a Russian spy. Here's a review I wrote for In Review Online:

Fostering redundant conversations about celebrity culture and nauseating puns on table seasonings comes with the territory of making a film with Angelina Jolie entitled Salt. Treading half-baked Cold War waters with a mix of earnest spy intrigue ala Sidney Bristow and Jason Bourne, Salt delivers just enough swift kicks to the head that you almost forget that you wanted anything more nuanced or complex. The film opens in North Korea where the evil doers du jour are torturing Evelyn Salt (Jolie) as she unconvincingly repeats, “I am not a spy…I am a businesswoman.” As it turns out, of course, Salt works covert operations for the CIA. Freed though a diplomatic trade, she returns home to the normalcy of pushing papers for the CIA and folding napkins in preparation for her wedding anniversary. None too soon, however, a mysterious, but oddly well-informed, Russian defector turns up fingering our heroin as a mole. Her staunch colleague, played with furrow planted in brow by Liev Schreiber, voices his doubts about the accusation while the contradictory FBI agent, a role that demands little from Chiwetel Ejiofor, wants her detained immediately. Feeling trapped and fearing for the safety of her husband, Salt displays her army-of-one capabilities, eludes homeland plus security and flees with suspicious intentions. What ensues is a typical cat and mouse that satisfyingly allows Salt to flaunt her feminine brains and brawn.

Director Phillip Noyce is not so much recycling formulas that worked in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger than he is watering them down to essential action elements that barely register any twist. Salt’s potential double agent status feels randomly inconsequential and her enemies are, coincidentally, the people who show up in her dubiously motivated path. Fortunately, most of the mundane, if not flawed, plot is buried beneath well-honed physical action that rests on Jolie’s slight but confident shoulders, including a stairway murder near the end of the film that is as surprising as it is fierce. Although Salt couldn’t be more topical with the recent arrest of a Russian spy ring and by sharing a name with the 1970s treaties (a far more interesting innuendo than the stuff sitting on your table), escapism is not so high minded to draw such correlations. Much like “Alias,” Salt leaves real world believability behind in favor of base level entertainment.

Angelina Jolie adequately fills the shoes left empty by Tom Cruise for the role of Salt and is up to the task of the film’s grounded physicality. Her counterparts never stand a chance against her charisma that is more about being Angelina Jolie than it is Evelyn Salt and she even plays a pretty good young man with the help of prosthetics—facial prosthetics, that is. Her character, however, is placid at best, and never earns enough sympathy for us to care about what Salt 2 has in store. The only emotional gravity you can find in Salt is in the cute little doggy that Evelyn Salt must abandon to save the US President (coincidentally played by a soap opera star) and the world. The plot holes are big enough to drive a North Korean submarine through and the narrative is so deliberate it’s a little insulting, but Salt keeps running, jumping, shooting, kicking and hitting as if that is all that matters. Falling well below Phillip Noyce’s highs but above Angelina Jolie’s lows, Salt hurtles unambiguously down a path of least resistance and innovation to satisfy the genre’s easiest customer.

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