If only Salt had been a little peppier.
Unfortunately, Salt is not peppier. Or exciting. Or entertaining. Or interesting.
Salt isn't a disaster, not by a long stretch. If only on her own strength alone, Angelina Jolie wouldn't allow the film to become a disaster. However, even a buffed up, butt-kicking Jolie can't hide the fact that there's not a unique bone in the cinematic body of this paint-by-numbers action flick in which Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a C.I.A. agent who may or may not be a double agent who gets outed by a walk-in defector (Daniel Olbrychski) with an elaborate tale of Russian sleeper cells that have infiltrated the highest ranks of American government and, not so coincidentally, happens to name Salt herself.
Of course, this immediately turns Salt from a widely respected agent into public enemy #1 in the eyes of the agency's counterintelligence officer, Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) despite being fiercely defended by her own supervisor, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber). Before long, Salt is on the run either as the double agent everyone's claiming she is or, perhaps, in an effort to clear her name.
Playing Evelyn Salt is a role Angelina Jolie could perform in her sleep and, for the most part, this is exactly what Jolie does by embodying Salt with lots of killer thriller moves but very little personality and pretty much zilch in the way of chemistry with anyone in the film, including her arachnologist hubby (August Diehl).
While it's true that lots of films these days are mere set-ups for a hoped for franchise, seldom has a film felt so entirely geared towards such an objective. Virtually every cinematic fiber of Salt feels like it's sole purpose for existence is to justify the next film in the series.
Here's hoping there is no "next" in the series.
Jolie isn't awful here, she simply feels unchallenged and, as well, uninspired in playing a mere variation on the majority of her roles in the last several years. We get it, Angelie, you're young, attractive and kick butt. We're happy for you. Now then, can you get back to actual acting?
The script by Kurt Wimmer is silly and ludicrous, as are the stunts that border on the laughably unrealistic. Sure, it's possible for this all to be quite a bit of fun. In Salt, it's simply not.
There's plenty of action to be found in Salt and, as such, there's simply no doubt that the film has an audience among those for whom standard action fare is quite enough and for whom anything involving Jolie is sufficient reason to head out to the multiplex. After all, most fans of summer action flicks aren't exactly concerned with dumbed down dialogue or a box of rocks storyline. Most fans of summer action flicks want buildings to blow up, explosions to fill the screen and for people to die.
One of my main beefs with Salt, however, is that it doesn't really matter which side of the fence Salt is on as she seems to kill indiscriminately and under the guise of national security, whatever nation it ends up being. It's difficult to become overly sympathetic with a character who kills dozens, maybe more, of innocent people along the way while all the time screaming "I've done nothing wrong."
Um, yes, Evelyn. Actually, you have.
While it would be difficult to chalk up Jolie's performance as entirely uninteresting given her physical prowess, Jolie has always been an actress who benefits from having a strong chemistry with those around her. In Salt, she's basically a lone wolf and even those for whom she supposedly cares exhibit almost no chemistry with her including a lifeless August Diehl as her husband. On the other hand, the awesome Brit actor Chiwetel Ejiofor adds nice heft and complexity as the counterintelligence officer who becomes increasingly intrigued by Salt's judgment skills while Liev Schreiber plays essentially the same type of character he usually plays but he does so quite well.
James Newton Howard's original score would be right at home in Siberia with its ominous, thundering tones though D.P. Robert Elswit lenses the film quite nicely despite fight choreography that appears a touch muted perhaps, it would seem, to preserve the film's PG-13 rating.
Salt is certainly not the worst action flick of summer 2010, but it's a far cry this summer or Jolie's best. Obviously set up to create the character of Salt in hopes for a cinematic franchise, instead one can only hope that America has no desire to go back to the Cold War era and this Salt gets put on ice.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic