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At about the halfway point in “Salt,” the action-spy thriller starring a butt-kicking Angelina Jolie finally becomes a parody of itself. And that is after the movie’s namesake, the triple-crossing, double agent named Evelyn Salt, has already leaped off one bridge and three moving trucks and killed a head of state.. The Russian spymaster, Vassily Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), who earlier in the film had fingered Salt as a Russian spy in front of her CIA colleagues, is deep in the bowels of a barge floating near Manhattan. Surrounded by unsmiling men with guns, he announces that “Part Two” of his diabolical plan is “Day X” – the day when his small army of sleeping spies awakens to seize control of America’s nuclear arsenal.
Subtle and cerebral “Salt” is not. Instead, the movie is a series of chases and fight-scenes, each slightly more ridiculous than the last, with some obvious plot twists mixed in to keep us on our toes.
Without giving too much away (not that there is much to give): Ms. Jolie is a CIA agent who may or may not also be a Russian spy. Her partner, Ted (Liev Schreiber), believes her when she says she has not done anything wrong. Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the counterintelligence agent in charge, does not. And so the chase begins.
Director Phillip Noyce (“Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”) keeps the pace brisk and the casualties high. He is no stranger to spy movies and his veteran experience staging long action sequences is clearly on display here as well.
His efforts, however, are squandered by a lame script with characters who have flimsy motivations, especially Salt. The audience is expected to believe that, trained in spy-craft since she was a young girl, the superspy shifts allegiances, kills scores of people and destroys cars and buildings all because she just wants to get back to her civilian husband, who we barely get to know, and their cute dog. Perhaps few care, as long as the body count keeps rising.
The movie also makes little use of Mr. Schreiber’s and Mr. Ejiofor’s prodigious acting skills. Their characters are just generic spies who drive around in black SUVs and utter such bland threats as “I’ll see to it personally.”
Just about the only refreshing thing about “Salt” is that Hollywood gives us the rare action movie in which a female character is responsible for saving the world from certain and total annihilation. With its Cold War mentality, it is a shame “Salt” was not made 25 years ago, when it would have been a nice alternative to the biceps of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, and when we still worried about the Russkies getting their Commie hands on our nukes.
1 hr 39 min. Rated PG-13 for excessive violence.