Salt

Considering how much time, money, and effort was put into the buzz about this flick, someone really should have figured out that it had better not open the week after Inception. Though to be fair, based on the early, pretty uninformative trailers for Inception, that movie could have turned out to be something of a yawner, so maybe the Salt people just didn't have enough to go on.

Strangely, there wasn't one single solitary mention of Salt's surname being weird. I realize this was supposed to be a pretty deathly serious film, but she must have taken some teasing about sharing a name with a seasoning. It would've been cool if they'd shown some of that. Though of course, much of her on-screen time happens with people who have almost no sense of humor. Liev Schreiber as her boss, Ted Winter of the CIA -- you'll get tired of hearing him say that phrase -- doesn't usually play characters that are the life of the party, after all, though he is excellent at that dry, sarcastic humor, which was one of the few things that saved Repo Men. And Chiwetel Ejiofor (2012 and Children of Men) as Peabody looks like he would glare down anyone who dared to say anything even remotely funny when there's work to be done, and there's always work to be done as far as he's concerned.

Peabody works for CIA Counter-Intelligence. Winter and Salt -- and now that I've typed that, I can't help but think of putting salt on snowy roads in the winter -- work for Clandestine Services, and if they think that fools anyone into believing they're anything other than spies, they're dreaming. The workday is almost over when a man named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) shows up and introduces himself as a Russian spy with valuable information. The actor's actually from Poland, but his Russian sounded good as far as I could tell... which isn't very far, but hey, I tried.

Salt (all right, played by Angelina Jolie, like anyone didn't know that) is ready to dismiss the guy as a crackpot when he annouces calmly that Salt herself is a Russian spy about to kill the president. (It isn't the president they make you think it is in the trailers; it's the Russian president.) And face it, whether you are a deep-cover Russian agent or not, it's going to rattle you to be accused of being one in front of a bunch of fellow CIA types. Salt is mainly rattled on behalf of her husband, Mike Krause (August Diehl), who's just a regular guy. Well, a regular arachnologist. Peabody and Winter tell her to sit tight until they sort things out, but since she's a super-spy and all, she's not allowed to sit tight. She breaks things and hurts people until she's free and racing back to her apartment. No Mike, like you don't see that coming. And the racing (and shooting, and exploding) doesn't let up until the credits roll. She also steals clothes from half the people she meets, speaks Russian, and channels the inventive spirit of MacGyver.

I've said before that there's something about Angelina that makes it hard for me to forget that she's an actress playing a part; and it isn't because her acting is bad. She's pretty good, actually. But that doesn't seem to matter much here, maybe because Salt isn't so much a character as a collection of stunts, improvised weapons, karate kicks, and the occasional bittersweet flashback. It sounds like I've just described Jason Bourne, doesn't it? That's probably because they're deliberately setting this up as "the next Bourne franchise". Pft. Be your own movie series, people. If Jason Bourne jumped off a bridge, would-- Wait. Never mind.

It is interesting, though, to see how Russia can still be made into a bad guy, almost two decades after the official collapse of the Soviet Union. And the stunts, improvised weapons, and karate kicks are also good, though you'll never get me to believe that they let Angelina Jolie leap from one fast-moving vehicle on a highway to another fast-moving vehicle on an off-ramp, no matter what they say on Twitter about her doing all her own stunts. I suspect camera trickery on the speed.

It's totally wide-open for a sequel, of course, and you know Angelina will get one if she wants one. Or five, if she wants five. That's bad, probably. I mean, if you know you're going to get as many sequels as you want, it's easy to stop trying to make them good. But despite my fears for the future, it wasn't a bad film. It was a solid action thriller, with good acting, exciting stunts and explosions, and enough plot to tie it all together with no gaping holes, and what more can you want from a summer spy-fest? I'll give it three out of five. Let me also add how grateful I am that they didn't stick with the original plan and have a male lead played by Tom Cruise. If he wants to keep playing spy, he can try to get a sequel to Knight and Day.

Image: 
Angelina Jolie, showing off two of the looks she displays as super-spy Saltl

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